Tom Donohue found his passion for helping people when he was called to coordinate disaster relief assistance during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then, he’s seen the same emergency relief processes work through many natural disasters.

With a background in technology, Donohue and his colleagues decided something needed to change to make disaster relief efforts more efficient and effective.

“You see the same thing play out over and over again,” he said. “And really, the heart-wrenching part, which took me from being just a technical guy to somebody who was passionate about this, was seeing and hearing the stories firsthand of the people who are impacted by the storms. Their houses were wiped out, and it was just them and their families. How do we get them back on their feet?”

Case management during disasters requires a lot of paperwork documenting victim information and needs.

Now, with Donohue’s software called DRIMS, or Disaster Recovery Integrated Management System, the entire process can be streamlined onto one platform.

Relief organizations can log in and share supplies like water, food and shelter opportunities, as well as provide information on long-term assistance like locating employment and housing.

“In cases where you identify the needs of these people, it’s taking weeks or months for a case manager to address them because they’re also kind of guessing and checking who else might have these things to address the person’s needs,” the Donohue said. “Literally, you can do it in a matter of seconds.”

Missoula's DRIMS and six other business start-ups from Bozeman and Billings pitched their ideas earlier this month to judges from Early Stage Montana, a nonprofit looking for entrepreneurs who need help planning and growing their businesses.

Now, all seven businesses will move on to a five-day hyper-accelerator training program that will fine-tune their marketing, hiring and financial strategy. The finalists will also have a chance to compete for a $50,000 investment from Frontier Angels during the annual Statewide Showcase in November.

“As these companies get traction commercially and grow, they will begin to create high-quality, high-skilled jobs in the community and they’ll also attract attention,” said Pat LaPointe, managing director of Frontier Angels and acting chairman of Early Stage Montana.

There is a lot of case management software out there, Donohue said, but DRIMS captures victim health information, employment, barriers the victim is experiencing and more.

It also helps organizations know where to send supplies, based on population demographics.

“The thing that’s made our system kind of stand out is there’s a lot of detail that goes into identifying immediate needs, short-term needs and long-term needs from a disaster recovery perspective,” Donohue said.

The software is now in beta testing, but Donohue hopes that within the next few months, he can introduce the system during Montana's wildfire season.

States can pay licensing fees for each organization that is entered into the system, while other organizations can raise the money themselves. A small fee is also charged to manage each case within the system.

The software has been tested in states along the Gulf Coast and in California.

“Our focus is, how can we help the state get the communities back on their feet as quickly as possible?” Donohue said.

Weather-related natural disasters have more than tripled since the 1960s, he said, and providing a comprehensive and functioning system for case managers is essential. The need will only increase in the years ahead, as climate change provokes an even higher incidence of natural disasters.

The browser-based software will also be available in an off-line version for areas where an internet connection isn’t available immediately following a disaster.

“Because we have a human interest in things, that’s why we want to help try and solve this problem and make it more efficient for people,” Donohue said. “To see the devastation firsthand really hits you.”

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