Halifax company assists Puerto Rico's recovery

HALIFAX — A software company born in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene is now 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 through 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 now 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.

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 on Tuesday 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 was not 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 https://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's not 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."

Mike Faher reports for the Brattleboro Reformer, VTDigger, and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.


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