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How a County in Georgia Reduced Costs and Gained Functionality by Switching to WebEOC SaaS

The Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency had used Juvare’s WebEOC critical workflow platform for many years, hosting the platform on premises. However, as its three servers approached end of life, county leaders faced a tough decision on what to do next. By transitioning to a cloud-hosted environment, Cherokee County traded the budgetary and logistical burdens of maintaining a self-hosted WebEOC instance for the increased uptime, accelerated software updates, and advanced functionality of WebEOC SaaS.

Cherokee County and WebEOC

Cherokee County, Georgia, which extends from the Atlanta suburbs to the North Georgia foothills, has a population of 281,000 and is known for its strong quality of life, excellent schools, and recreational opportunities.
The county also sees its fair share of natural disasters, including winter storms, hurricanes, and other severe weather events. Since 2000, sixteen tornadoes have struck the county, and, since 2017, it has been included in three federal disaster declarations.
Responsibility for helping the county’s citizens contend with disasters falls to the Cherokee County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). The EMA operates a physical emergency operations (EOC) center in Canton that is staffed by EMA personnel and representatives of other agencies and departments with emergency-related responsibilities.
Like more than 50 U.S. federal agencies and 600 other emergency management agencies, the Cherokee County EMA also relies on WebEOC—the world’s leading emergency management software platform—to prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other critical events.

The County Faces a Tough Decision

Until recently, the EMA hosted WebEOC on servers owned and maintained by the county, specifically a web server, an SQL server, and a server for training and testing. However, as those three servers neared the end of their operational lifespans, the county faced a difficult decision: whether to upgrade the servers and continue hosting WebEOC on premises or find another way of accessing the platform.
“The IT department recognized the need to weigh all options before further county investment in server upgrades,” says Daniel Westbrook, Cherokee County’s Emergency Management Director. The county’s analysis identified the main reasons in favor of upgrading the servers as their overall positive experience with on-prem WebEOC and its assumed cost-effectiveness.
But staying on prem would not be without its disadvantages. For one thing, “doing the upgrade and migration was going to be time consuming and tedious,” says Westbrook. In addition, retaining an on-prem WebEOC instance would mean that the county would need to continue updating the servers every month, long a thorn in the side of the IT department because of the associated risks and burdens.
Other drawbacks of continuing with on-prem WebEOC were that it limited the EMA’s ability to create new dashboards and leverage new workflows—known as WebEOC Boards—and prevented it from accessing some of the platform’s most powerful functionalities. “We were on a much older version of WebEOC,” says Westbrook. “Even if we upgraded the servers, we wouldn’t have been able to get the EOC to work the way we wanted it to.”
Finally, as the analysis continued, even the supposed cost-effectiveness of retaining an on-prem instance became increasingly uncertain. The expense of rebuilding the servers, performing the migration, and sourcing the third-party assistance needed to ensure that the job was done effectively and with minimal operational impact were likely to be significant.
It was at this point that the county began to consider another option.

Option 1: Rebuilding an On-Premises Environment

Option 2: Investing in the Future with WebEOC SaaS

Exploring the Potential of a Cloud-Hosted WebEOC Instance

The county began to look at the possibility of moving to WebEOC SaaS (Software as a Service), the cloud-hosted version of the platform.
This approach would relieve the county of the burden of server upgrades and maintenance, expand its storage capacity, enable the implementation of the most recent WebEOC Boards, and provide access to enhanced features, including the latest mapping capabilities. “We realized switching would allow us to have WebEOC function at the top of line when we need it most,” says Westbrook.
An early concern was the price, but Cynthia Mihelich, Account Executive at Juvare, worked with Cherokee’s team to figure out a financially viable migration path. “Ultimately, our chain of command decided that the price was reasonable based on the additional functionality,” says Angelo Sanders, the Cherokee County’s Technical Services Manager.
“When you’re in the middle of an event and you’re trying to access a piece of critical information,” adds Westbrook, “the cost goes away when you can actually find what you’re looking for.”
In the end, the county’s leaders decided to make the move to WebEOC SaaS. “Our stakeholders understand how much we use WebEOC,” says Westbrook. “Some of them have worked twelve-hour shifts in the EOC during events, so they knew what a difference the added functionality would make.”

Greater Functionality Without the Burden of On-Premises Hosting

The county made the decision to migrate to WebEOC SaaS near the end of 2022, and it has now successfully navigated the challenge it faced when it realized its on-prem servers would soon be obsolete.
And while the county has not experienced a disaster since making the switch, the reviews based on its experience performing testing and training on the new system have been glowing. “From the IT perspective, it’s been great,” says Sanders. “It’s taken away the burden and risk of doing the upgrade and monthly updates.”
The switch also allowed the county to clear out years’ worth of digital clutter and improved the platform’s resilience by eliminating the single point of failure that results from having multiple servers in the same location.
The SaaS migration also enhanced the EMA’s ability to work with its partners, such as local fire departments, law enforcement, public health agencies, and the Red Cross. “As we’ve upgraded and added functionality, it’s provided a much more seamless ability to coordinate with our partners,” says Westbrook.
The new functionality allows partners to log on to the system remotely and get real-time information from WebEOC Boards about impacts, resource requests, and similar matters. “They’ve raved about it,” says Westbrook.
WebEOC SaaS has also allowed the county to realize the advantages of embedded maps in WebEOC’s Board-contained and system-wide dashboards, enabling at-a-glance comprehension of where impacts and resources are physically located across the county and helping brief key stakeholders quickly when every moment counts.
“We’re in the early stages of getting into map functionality,” says Westbrook. “We had none before. We’ve seen other agencies that have that. We can see already it’s going to be amazing what we’ll be able to do with it.”

Moving Forward with WebEOC SaaS

As the Cherokee County EMA and IT Department continue to leverage the advantages of their new cloud-hosted WebEOC SaaS instance, the team is focused on ironing out the legacy database issue, using the platform to strengthen partner relationships, extending its mapping capability, and implementing additional WebEOC Boards for new emergency management and day-to-day use cases.
“In the end, the choice to switch was a no-brainer,” says Westbrook. “We’re very excited. The sky’s the limit. WebEOC has been a lifesaver.”

Eight Advantages of SaaS Solutions Over On-Premises Environments

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