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The Commons
News

Halifax company assists Puerto Rico's recovery

Software created after Irene being put to use after devastating hurricane

Originally published in The Commons issue #431 (Wednesday, October 25, 2017). This story appeared on page C4.



HALIFAX—A software company born in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene is playing a key role in Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria.

Halifax-based Storm Petrel LLC, which assists governments with post-disaster financial management, has landed a contract to aid Puerto Rican authorities as they begin recovering from a Category 4 storm that devastated the island last month.

It’s a large-scale, high-profile application for Storm Petrel’s software, which was designed to help communities navigate complex federal funding regulations.

“The commonwealth of Puerto Rico is using our software for managing all of the [Federal Emergency Management Agency] grants now, and they will be using it for the other disaster-response grants that follow,” Storm Petrel founder Christina Moore said.

As founder of Halifax EMS and a member of the town’s emergency operations center, Moore was deeply involved in the response to Irene’s severe flooding in August 2011. She gained experience and expertise that she then put to use the next year, when she traveled to New York City to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery.

Those projects, along with Moore’s past experiences in technology and emergency response, led her to start Storm Petrel. Moore has said she saw similar problems in southern Vermont and in New York — a “lack of tools” to handle federal disaster-funding requirements.

The tool she developed, called Tempest-GEMS, is grant-management software with a “significant focus on regulatory compliance.” It is designed, Moore said, to “assist from the moment the disaster hits and for the decade that follows, guiding communities through successful grant close-out processes.”

Moore’s software has garnered praise in Vermont, and her business is part of a comprehensive, tri-state green economy project called the Ecovation Hub.

Storm Petrel will be put to the test in Puerto Rico, where the company is serving as a subcontractor to the Alexandria, Va.-based DCMC Partners. DCMC bills itself as a “crisis management and public safety consulting firm,” and the company has a contract with the Puerto Rican government.

Barry Scanlon, a DCMC co-founder, said his company “couldn’t be more pleased” with Storm Petrel’s contributions thus far.

Moore “has been a great member of the team, and I think her work ultimately will help the people of Puerto Rico recover,” Scanlon said.

That recovery, however, is a long-term process. That’s especially true when it comes to Storm Petrel’s speciality — the realm of disaster-funding management and federal reimbursement.

“This is data that will literally be used for years and years,” Scanlon said.

This isn’t the first time the two companies have worked together: Moore said DCMC has been a Storm Petrel customer and uses the company’s software tools.

“With that existing relationship, we were a natural choice for partnering with them for these disasters,” she said.

This year’s hurricane season has brought one disaster after another. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, bearing winds in excess of 150 mph.

The deadly storm caused severe flooding and wreaked havoc on the U.S. territory’s infrastructure. An online tally from the Puerto Rican government shows that many essential services including electricity, telecommunications, transportation, and health care are still severely hampered several weeks after the storm.

Corresponding via email from Puerto Rico, Moore described the devastation — “power lines on the ground, debris everywhere, tree tops and palm tops removed.”

She was careful to say she wasn’t serving as an official spokesperson for the situation or for the relief effort. But Moore did say that the now-familiar pictures of destruction in news accounts “can only start to tell the stories that are now commonplace here.”

Moore declined to disclose the amount of her company’s contract in Puerto Rico. But she is expanding her workforce to meet the project’s demands, and Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. is assisting Storm Petrel in recruiting three software-development employees. More information is available at brattleborodevelopment.com.

It’s a significant growth spurt for a still-young company.

“We were six [employees] including a part-time bookkeeper,” Moore said. “We’ve added three contracted programmers and another staff member last week.”

Moore said it isn’t yet clear how much work will require Storm Petrel’s presence on the ground in Puerto Rico.

“A lot of that depends on the state of the infrastructure and demand for housing,” she said. “We can work remotely, and maybe it makes sense for us to ease burdens on the infrastructure. But we’d prefer to be here, if possible.”

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