Report: FEMA disaster relief databases at risk

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not adequately protecting its core databases containing sensitive disaster relief information, according to a new report from Homeland Security Department Inspector General Richard L. Skinner.

A redacted copy of the report was posted at the inspector general's Web site today.

FEMA?which comprises the bulk of the DHS' Emergency Preparedness and Response directorate?has made some improvements in its IT security, including establishing a process to manage change and a contingency plan, the report said.

However, FEMA has not implemented effective access controls and continuity of operations safeguards, nor has it conducted contingency plan training or testing.

The inadequacies were found in information security controls for the National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS), FEMA's core database system for managing disaster relief funding and resources.

"Due to these database security exposures, there is an increased risk that unauthorized individuals could gain access to critical EP&R [Emergency Preparedness and Response] database resources and compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of sensitive NEMIS data," Skinner wrote in the report. "In addition, EP&R may not be able to recover NEMIS following a disaster."

FEMA officials agreed with most of the audit findings and were taking corrective action, according to the report. However, 56 deficiencies remained unaddressed, Skinner wrote in a summary.

In addition, FEMA has not fully aligned its IT security program with the department's policies and practices, the report said. Security controls have not been tested in more than a year, a contingency plan has not been tested, security control costs have not been integrated into the lifecycle of the system, and system and database administrators have not received specialized security training, according to the report.

NEMIS was developed by Anteon International Corp. of Fairfax, Va., and became operational in 1998. The system replaced FEMA's legacy IT infrastructure with a fully integrated architecture consisting of more than 31 networked servers installed nationwide, according to a fact sheet posted on Anteon's Web site.

Separately, the DHS inspector general released another report stating that the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has not developed adequate database security controls for its Central Index System, including access controls, configuration management procedures and continuity of operations safeguards.

The Central Index System was established in 1985 to assist in enforcing immigration laws. It contains biographical and status information on about 55 million people, including permanent residents, naturalized citizens, apprehended aliens and others.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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