Tidal Basin is a comprehensive emergency and disaster management consulting firm with over 35 years of experience. It has offices along the Eastern Seaboard, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii. As a leader in the industry, they provide a full range of services including the core function of responding to and helping people quickly recover from disasters to build back with greater resilience.
To that end, Tidal Basin supports disaster survivors and their communities by helping dozens of states and local governments navigate their preparedness, emergency management, response, and recovery needs from hurricanes, tropical and severe storms, floods, wildfires, volcanic activity, and the like. Additionally, the firm supports several states, localities, and health systems with COVID-19 recovery, utility relief programs, rental assistance, mortgage assistance, and various other grant programs.
The firm also provides programmatic and technical management expertise and resources to governments, organizations, businesses, and communities. This includes administering disaster relief and grant funds allocated by organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Treasury, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), along with other funds managed by federal, state, and local governments.
When funds are allocated to help survivors recover from a disaster, Tidal Basin is engaged to rapidly deploy tools for grants, program, and case management. In simplest terms, Tidal Basin is responsible for rapidly setting up a system where people and localities affected by disasters can apply for financial and other relief. The recipient of that funding can review and determine eligibility and grant funds can be tracked against the total allocation and support federal reporting requirements.
To accomplish the critical function of providing financial and other relief, Tidal Basin relies on technology to streamline operations, including opening individual applications for people affected by disasters, opening individual requests for assistance from business and government entities, tracking and processing the status of a request for assistance, working with third parties, facilitating compliance with complex program requirements, and promoting transparency through reporting.
Previously, Tidal Basin relied on legacy grants management systems through various providers. These systems and their underlying technologies and architecture posed several significant challenges for the organization.
Inflexibility and Timing
Even though every disaster situation is different, the legacy platforms used were often designed for other types of programs and retrofitted to the specific program needs or they were designed for a single program type, which resulted in a rigid system that was timely and expensive to modify when it came to its functional capabilities.
Whenever disaster strikes or when governments provide grants for relief, a myriad of eligibility requirements can be dynamic as the recovery unfolds or disaster and program requirements evolve. The legacy systems were often incapable of being quickly adjusted to adequately support the process for application intake, workflow, and reporting to meet the requirements of a specific grant or recovery program.
Consequently, new programs necessitated a lengthy period for developers to customize the requirements into the legacy management system, often taking several weeks or months; or the alternative of collecting incomplete datasets with limited ability to interact with those in need promptly, without significant additional resources. Because of the system development requirements and applicant communication limitations of these systems, the inefficiency and timing of a manual one-off build for every incident did not align well with the need to get assistance out right away. A quicker turn-around time was a critical necessity.
In addition to timeliness concerns, scalability was a necessity since disaster events and grant programs can vary widely in scale and scope, and ensuring system availability for when survivors and applicants need it most is a high priority for those administering the programs and for the communities they serve. The surge of applications could load or strain the system if too many are received in a short time span. The system was designed from the start and is constantly being refined to support known scalability needs and planned future needs. The system was load-tested to support 50,000 applications every 30 minutes, with additional autoscaling in place to support volumes that exceed those numbers.
Tidal Basin wanted to invest in replacing legacy systems to provide much-needed change in the industry by providing a system that focused on the applicant experience and supported the individuals and communities managing those programs in a way that hasn’t been done before. Their mission of leaving communities stronger than before was a driving force behind design and architecture from the beginning, which includes features such as custom URLs and design branding for every program and provides the flexibility needed within a single system to support the communities they serve.
Enhanced Reporting Capabilities
The need for better and more custom reporting from the data captured by the system was essential. Each disaster and subsequent government grant had its requirements for transparency. The format needed to be easily adjusted to report how the government funds were utilized to ensure compliance with eligibility requirements and other rules.
How JBS Helped
Through a professional relationship, Tidal Basin reached out to JBS Dev for help with developing a new grant and case management platform that would replace their use of legacy systems. Will Giddens, the JBS Dev Delivery Lead, said “We were excited to develop and build out a new custom platform that would address Tidal Basin’s concerns.”
In August 2022, JBS Dev conducted an initial discovery and proposed a plan for Tidal Basin to develop a new platform that would eventually become “Phoenix OneCase.” The plan would also involve using several services in the cloud powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). This would be especially important for addressing concerns for reliability and scaling during the aftermath and immediate response to major disasters and other grant programs.
In December 2022, TB Technologies acquired a technology company with software development resources, and the development team onboarded to the project and worked alongside the JBS team.
The JBS and TB Technologies team, consisting of a product owner, subject matter experts, scrum master, delivery lead, three senior developers, two developers, quality assurance teams, and multiple business analysts worked together over several months to get a new platform ready to help disaster survivors more quickly and efficiently.
Phoenix OneCase Functionality
The functionality of Phoenix OneCase allowed Tidal Basin project managers to quickly set up a new disaster relief program without hard coding or the help of developers (as was the case with many legacy systems). Now, a project manager could quickly build a custom form with specific information fields that apply to a particular program. This includes data integrity checks such as required fields, address validation, format masks, and data type checking.
With a user-friendly forms engine, a project manager can fully customize the initial registration questions required from a new applicant requesting assistance and/or disaster relief. These questions could be created from either pre-defined templates or entirely from scratch—something that was difficult and timely to do on the legacy platform.
To make it even more flexible and customizable, the team designed Phoenix OneCase to have configurable workflows with tracking that meets the needs of the case or grant management program. This includes phases, gatekeeping, state management, quality assurance, and case manager functions defined by role, phase, project, and program. The application also allows case managers to upload relevant documents for viewing and tracking.
While each program is different, a typical workflow with phases might involve the following:
- Intake of applicant information
- Review of eligibility requirements
- Review of environmental and safety impact
- Determination of award under grant
- Inspection to ensure that funds were used properly
AWS for Scaling and Reliability
Even though Tidal Basin had previously been a Microsoft Azure shop, to address concerns for reliability and scaling, JBS Dev recommended that Phoenix OneCase be hosted in the cloud using Amazon Web Service (AWS). Tidal Basin agreed to make the switch and several robust AWS cloud services were leveraged to ensure application reliability, speed, and scaling.
AWS Lambda, an event-driven, serverless computing platform was used to run the code for Phoenix OneCase without having to provision or manage infrastructure. Amazon API Gateway was used for creating, maintaining, and securing APIs at any scale for Tidal Basin’s application.
Aurora Serverless v2, an on-demand, autoscaling configuration for Amazon Aurora was set-up to adjust and optimize the capacity of the database supporting the application. Additionally, AWS ElastiCache increased real-time performance for Phoenix OneCase by adding a cache for frequently read data to optimize resources. Further, to support the vertical scaling of the database, AWS Auto Scaling groups added more database readers proportional to the load.
All file and document storage for Phoenix OneCase relied on Amazon Simple Cloud Storage Service (S3). A third-party Antivirus for Amazon S3 prevented malware from infiltrating the files and documents. To speed up the distribution of static and dynamic web content for the application, Amazon CloudFront was relied upon.
For security, the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) was leveraged to protect Phoenix OneCase from common web exploits and bots.
Lastly, to efficiently deploy and manage this cloud infrastructure in an automated and secure manner, JBS Dev effectively used AWS CloudFormation.
BI Tools for Reporting
To help Tidal Basin meet all of its government-mandated reporting requirements, the team chose to integrate existing business intelligence tools to provide the greatest flexibility in modifying and scheduling reports. Currently, the existing projects are taking advantage of Microsoft Power BI. This robust platform allows Tidal Basin staff to flexibly tap into the backend database of Phoenix OneCase to create custom reports, dashboards, and data visualizations on demand to meet all regulatory reporting requirements. The dashboards are integrated into the application to streamline the program teams monitoring. The application can support other BI tools in the market based on client needs and enterprise technology requirements.
Tidal Basin is proud of Phoenix OneCase. They have described it as “an efficient and reliable grant management system” that has become a critical component for streamlining operations, facilitating compliance with program requirements, and promoting transparency through ease of reporting.
Two of the most critical results from the new application are:
- A 24-hour setup time for new programs to quickly provide disaster relief for survivors (as compared to days and weeks with the legacy platform).
- The ability to scale has been load-tested to support 50,000 concurrent applications within 30 minutes.
Recently, Phoenix OneCase was “battle-tested” and successfully used to address the needs of disaster survivors in both the Maui wildfires and Hurricane Idalia (Category 4) that caused significant damage to the southeastern United States, especially in North Florida.
JBS Dev and TB Technologies continue to work with Tidal Basin to improve further and add even more functionality to the platform.
Melissa Gordon, EVP of Enterprise Solutions at Tidal Basin, said, “We are grateful for the partnership with JBS Dev and are excited to bring our clients and their communities a solution that makes managing the process of asking for help during what is likely one of the most difficult times in their life, just a little bit easier.”