DRIMS: Missoula start-up combines tech with experience to organize disaster relief

DRIMS founder Tom Donohue helped coordinate disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,800 people. Since then, for nearly 15 years, he has worked to develop DRIMS as a platform solution.

Editor’s NoteThis is the third in a series of business profiles highlighting forward-thinking, Missoula-based start-ups. The Montana High Tech Business Alliance recently feted the firms, all of which meet at least two required criteria: steep revenue growth or work in a high-growth sector; high-potential products or services; valuable intellectual property; major clients or new markets; will expand operations or add a significant number of jobs in the next year; led by experienced entrepreneurs or top experts.

Boasting an experienced team that knows how to mitigate a wide range of disasters, the Disaster Recovery Integrated Management System (DRIMS) aims to work with local emergency response teams nationwide to coordinate systems.

Founded last April, the Missoula-based start-up and its robust leadership team offer more than 50 years combined experience. 

While the bulk of DRIMS’ work centers around Louisiana, founder and CEO Tom Donohue said the company plans to expand into the Northwest, more Gulf states and into California during first fiscal quarter of 2020.

DRIMS plans to hire 10 to 20 new employees in 2020 to bolster the current staff of five — and Donohue said they’ll hire as many as possible in Montana.

The company platform enables nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations to connect, share resources and increase efficiency in disaster-response situations.

“What I have experienced/seen in my 14-plus years working in this field,” said Donohue, “is that people are amazing and resilient and when they work together they can achieve amazing things together and with/for one another. That is what we are enabling through DRIMS.” 

DRIMS is a secure system that helps coordinate such partners more efficiently deploy people, equipment, materials, food, water and financial resources for those impacted by a disaster, as Montana High Tech Business Alliance highlights.

Locally, Donohue aims to work with the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management and the County Organizations Active in Disaster to incorporate DRIMS.

“As our business grows,” said Donohue, “we are definitely looking to grow our team here in Montana. We want to contribute to the business and technology ecosystem here in Montana as much as we can. 

“Most importantly, our goal is to share/see our platform used to address needs — wildfires, homelessness, foster care … wherever it makes sense — and improve lives here locally and throughout the state.”

As with many start-ups, he and his team have their sights set on a healthy work-lifestyle balance.

In 2005, Donohue helped coordinate disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,800 people. Since then, for nearly 15 years, he has worked to develop DRIMS as a platform solution.

But he got into the business at Terrebonne Readiness Assistance Coalition (TRAC) — considered the longest, continuously operating community-based disaster recovery/preparedness 501C3 organization in the United States. 

“Working with TRAC was my first exposure to disaster relief,” said Donohue. “I was supporting volunteers and financial donations from North Carolina while developing tools to help improve communications between organizations and case management.”

For example, he updated a web portal and an information 800 phone number hourly. 

With a solid background in technology, he envisioned a space for technology to improve disaster relief efforts. He sought to make them more coordinated and efficient for those offering and seeking aid.

DRIMS also provides a single point of contact for people who need urgent support while trying to recover from a disaster. 

A real-life agency can log in to the DRIMS system, share supplies and information, plus arrange longer-term assistance — such as helping victims find employment and more permanent housing. 

Donohue’s ultra-experienced leadership includes Peg Case, director of customer advocacy, and Dan David, director of technology. 

Case personally boasts 30 years of experience in disaster education and preparation; she helped nonprofit Terrebonne Readiness Assistance Coalition with disaster education and long-term case management. She won the FEMA Award for Superior Performance and Outstanding Achievement in Disaster Recovery and Preparedness Education.

“DRIMS is the culmination of 30-plus years of experience in the disaster education, preparedness and long-term case management field,” said Case. “It excites me and does my heart good to see how we are able to help so many organizations do good work and more importantly help and positively impact the lives of the people who need it most.” 

David worked with businesses for over 20 years in system administration, cybersecurity and data storage/visualization.

“I am a techie, but becoming a part of this team and really helped me to see how the technical skills don’t just translate into lines of code, but to helping people,” said David. “That gets me excited at the work I do each day.”

The evolution of DRIMS and organizing major players after a disaster seems natural.

“We quickly found that we needed to improve our processes/efficiency in working with so many people after Katrina and so many other hurricanes … that we went from spreadsheets to MS Access databases to the platform we call DRIMS today,” said Donohue of his technical consultancy following Katrina.

“As we saw what we were able to do for TRAC … and our core strengths of client, case and resource management,” he added, “it has allowed us not only to work in the disaster space, but also with prison re-entry programs, foster care, health care, etc.”

Having grown from three initial employees to 14 since its founding, DRIMS offers a virtual team spread out among Montana, Oregon, Mississippi, Arizona and North Carolina. 

“Our historical core activities started down in Louisiana,” said Donohue, adding that the company works with the United Way of Central Louisiana, United Way of Louisiana, Pelican Center for Children and Families, Re-Entry Solutions, the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and NorCal Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. 

The core team comprises five employees, plus six on an extended team and three offshore developers.

As for popular start-up competitions and awards, DRIMS appears self-sufficient.

“We haven’t won any money,” said Donohue. “We have been very lean/diligent in our self-funding efforts to-date.” 

An Army veteran (1993-1996), Donohue grew up in Sacramento, Calif., lived in Cary, N.C., moved to Whitefish in 2010, then settled in Missoula in 2014.