In 2018 there was a fire in the city of Corona, California. The fire was two years before the global pandemic, which oddly would share its name with the city. The fire played a vital role in the city’s response to the virus when it arrived. It’s one of those strange stories where a tragedy acts as a rehearsal for a bigger problem down the road. Ultimately, it’s a story about preparation gone right.

Chris McMasters and Kyle Edgeworth, the CIO and Deputy CIO of Corona, were out of town at a conference when they heard about the fire. They had to respond quickly. McMasters says, “we had to open an emergency operations center remotely and work things over the phone from a distance until we could get back to the city. It didn’t work all that well, and we started thinking about what we could accomplish with a move to the cloud and the adoption of cloud workspaces.”

Many things are more manageable than getting a government agency to overhaul its infrastructure. Deep-sea fishing comes to mind. Many states and cities had long-term strategies for adopting cloud technology in the future, bit by bit. Most, however, remained unconvinced that there was a pressing need to transition. McMasters and Edgeworth had their work cut out for them if they were going to convince the city of Corona to make a move that most other local governments wouldn’t make. Edgeworth describes the experience like this:

“We had to go to the city council and ask for the money to invest in cloud workspaces. We had to do a lot of due diligence in demonstrating how it would improve resource allocation, save costs, and reduce power consumption. In the end, we were able to make the case that it was both an economic and strategic decision, one which really paid off when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.”

It turns out their success made a world of difference when the time came to implement a work-from-home strategy in March 2020. As most enterprises and governmental bodies were scrambling to find solutions, Corona had the infrastructure already in place to bring their emergency call-centers online. The cloud-enabled workspace allowed the city to save jobs, avoid layoffs, and keep city-services operational.

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Across the country, on the state and local level, governments that had the fortune or foresight to have adopted the cloud early proved themselves able to transition to the COVID environment better than anyone else. California itself, Indiana, and Arkansas all had successful responses to COVID-19 for this reason.

Indiana had begun its investment in the cloud last fall, which allowed them to scale and support the need to work from home rapidly. California’s push into the cloud dates back to 2016, and that effort permitted 200,000 employees to transition to telework smoothly. In Arkansas, the pandemic unemployment assistance program didn’t experience the backlog many states went through due to its ability to pivot its call-centers to the already existing cloud infrastructure.

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Before COVID-19, most government agencies thought of the transition to the cloud as a luxury. The pandemic made it clear that the cloud is now a necessity. Though the cloud is currently serving as the best possible solution to our current global crisis, the benefits of this move will long outlive today’s predicament. Just as the city of Corona’s response to its fire wound up playing a pivotal role the next time the city found itself in a crisis, the country’s rapid response to COVID will continue to prove invaluable as we continue into this exciting new century.

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