eGrants for Management of Disaster Recovery Financial Assistance

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eGrants for Management of Disaster Recovery Financial AssistanceIn the fall of 2005, two major hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. The States of Mississippi and Louisiana were hardest hit. Within months of the storms, STR.Grants (STR) software was selected to be part of the recovery effort in Mississippi. Two months later, STR.Grants (STR) software  was chosen to support the Road Home program in Louisiana. And in 2013 after Super Storm Sandy devastated the East Coast, our software was chosen to support the distribution of financial assistant to victims in the State of New Jersey.

The eGrantsPlus software was enhanced for use with major disasters where large numbers of applicants are involved and large amounts of money are being distributed to homeowners to help them recover from the damage of the “disaster.”

Our eGrants software was built on the highly scalable eGrantsPlus platform. During peak operation in Louisiana, the software processed over 30,000 applications in one week without any system outages or degradation in performance. The available workflow engine and configurable gateway checks were used to meet the ever-changing requirements of the programs for the two states. The software provides end-to-end functionality for processing applications for assistance including Workflow management control across application, eligibility, rules-based grant calculation, correspondence/case tracking, and closing. The software has been used by applicants, many of whom had little computer skill, staff members, title companies and managers.

STR is in a unique position to help any municipality faced with recovery from a natural disaster like Katrina, Rita or Sandy. STR’s grants management software and database are the system of record in both Mississippi and Louisiana. STR has the experience of the largest recovery program to date – Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana. We know what works and what doesn’t work. We know the pitfalls to be avoided. STR has an existing grant management system that has been proven with Katrina and Rita – 225,000 applicants, 125,000 awards, $8.8 billion disbursed. STR’s system was built for CDBG recovery programs and has existing logic to address all the items likely to be required for any natural disaster, including pre-storm values, estimated cost of damage, other compensation (FEMA, insurance, SBA, etc.), lawsuits.

STR’s system tracks the applications from initial submission, through verification and validation of data (interfaces with FEMA, SBA, insurance companies), to calculation of award, to disbursement of funds to title company, to requisition for funds from HUD, to compliance monitoring. STR’s grant program is robust having higher than 99% availability over six years, having handled 30,000 applications submitted on-line during the last week when applications were being accepted, having over 2,500 users processing applications at peak. Because there had never been a disaster like Katrina and policies were being formed and changed very rapidly, STR was able to provide 26 releases of software in one year as the program evolved and new processing procedures were required.

STR is uniquely qualified to understand the pressures that any municipality is under and the media attention associated with the recovery efforts. Just like Katrina and Rita response, this is an historic effort. An immediate and “correct” response under the scrutiny of the national media was critical then and it is critical now.

Based on the experience of Katrina and Rita, every major natural disaster will bring a need to deal with:

  • Eligibility rules that may change. There will be a need to document each iteration of the rules and the data that existed or was produced as a result of the rules that were in place with each iteration.
  • Applicants who want to know the status of their application and claim on a daily basis. If this must be done by phone, it will be a massive task.  Lawsuits so each “file” will need to be its own lawsuit-ready file, (what was done, when, why, and by who)
  • Fraudulent claims in large number – there will be a need to do continual mining of data to look for and identify fraud in claims. Documentation will be needed to support the findings of eligibility and fraud
  • The need to store and have available a huge number of electronic files for each case file. The database at Road Home approached 4TB with attachments before those attachments were off-loaded to a document management system. The STR software can work with any of the major document management systems.
  • Applicants who need help just to submit the application. Service centers with users who are qualified and authorized to use the software may be essential. There will likely be the need to access real-time data and the need to scan and attach documents to the case files.
  • The need for case logs to document communication with applicants and among those
  • working the case.
  • Changes to data. An audit trail for the data will be critical.
  • Claims that fall outside the processing of standard procedures requiring additional screening processes, many scenarios’ you can’t even think of until faced with them.

These are exactly the types of things we dealt with as part of the Road Home project. We have lived this the last 6+ years. The experience gained and lessons learned can’t be taught. We are uniquely qualified to help you on this project, and based on real-world experience we can help you drive realistic expectations. We believe that you will need a vendor who can modify or reconfigure the software as the requirements of the software change. At Road Home, there were periods where updates to the software (either the software or the configuration) occurred weekly instead of the normal annual release cycle of traditional COTS vendors. All of these updates were done without down-time and without security issues. STR has received consistent praise from those who have worked with STR and used the STR software.

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