Burke County, N.C., used a homeland security grant to purchase a mobile Incident Management Unit.
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
The directors of, and telecommunicators who work in, public safety communications centers don’t think of the PSAP as a business. Neither do the members of the communities that rely on comm centers to get them the help they need when they need it. People call 9-1-1 when they’ve been the victim of a crime, when a fire is threatening their home or business, when they’re sick or when they’ve been injured. They call for a service, and they expect that service to be delivered. But the harsh economic realities of recent years have brought home the message that comm centers need money—and lots of it—to deliver the services expected of them.
Above and beyond the usual operating expenses that fall within annual budget sources (local and state 9-1-1 funding, which is also coming under increased scrutiny and often diverted to fund other priorities), major project and equipment expenses need to be funded. All equipment ages, breaks down, needs repairs and, eventually, replacement. New consumer technologies create the need for new ways to access 9-1-1 and proactively communicate with the general public. Natural and man-made disasters have revealed the need for local first responders to be able to communicate seamlessly with state and federal responders. New regulations mandate the need for equipment to be modified, upgraded and replaced, often at the agency’s expense (consider the narrowbanding requirement). Where do public safety comm centers find the money to fund the equipment and projects that fall outside the scope of the annual budget cycle?
The answer: Grants.
Types of Grants
Federal grants can be categorized into several types. Project grants, the most common grants, are awarded competitively Formula grants provide funds as dictated by a law. Categorical grants may be spent only for narrowly defined purposes, and recipients must often match all or a portion of the federal funds. Block grants combine categorical grants into a single program. Recipients of block grants have more leeway in using funds than recipients of individual categorical grants. Earmark grants are explicitly specified in appropriations of the U.S. Congress.
Grant funds can be used to meet specific, discrete needs or to fund major, long-term projects. Examples of recent grant awards: 1) A $214,000 Rural County Grant from the Florida Emergency 9-1-1 Board for the Walton County (Fla.) Emergency Operations Center to fund consolidation. 2) The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department received an $850,000 COPS Technology grant for the purchase of equipment designed to enhance interoperability.
Grants are not free money. Funds are awarded only after an agency does extensive planning, preparation and research, pays minute attention to application details and, possibly, meets a matching funds requirement. Then the money comes with stipulations on how it can be spent, monitoring and reporting requirements, and myriad other strings.
Where’s the Money?
In December 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced $2.7 billion—yes billion —in grant program funding for fiscal year 2010. (See Table 1, opposite, for a summary.) At first, that sounds like a phenomenal amount of money, but when you realize that it’s less than last year, that much of it is earmarked for specific programs and areas and that local agencies will be competing for what’s left, figuring out how to get a share of the available funds can be daunting.
Fortunately, the DHS grants that everyone knows about and will be competing for aren’t the only sources for grant funding.
You can increase your odds of obtaining grant funding if you look for less traditional funding sources and figure out how to position yourself so you’re competing with fewer agencies for different money.
Some of the money you may not know about comes from another alphabet soup of government sources: ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), DOT (Department of Transportation), USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), DOC (Department of Commerce), Weed & Seed (a community-based, multiagency approach to law enforcement, crime prevention and community revitalization sponsored by the DOJ), DOL (Department of Labor), HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and the Department of Tourism and Trade.
When you factor in the budgets of the departments above and the programs they fund, you’re looking at a pot of approximately $1.8 trillion. Now wouldn’t you rather compete in that arena? (See pages 7 and 8 for where to find and apply for available grants.)
Set the Stage for Success
Money is available, but how you go about describing your need, designing a solution and quantifying its benefits in a way that qualifies for the money is the differentiator that ensures your agency gets a share. Remember, the government funds its priorities. So show the reviewers and policy makers that you understand the big picture, and they’ll show you the money.
Interoperability, Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), a nationwide broadband network for public safety and changing consumer technology are the major factors driving investment in public safety technology right now.
Interoperability is a stated and demonstrated government priority. “If we cannot talk to each other every day, how are we gonna talk when the ‘Big One’ happens?” asks Paul Werfel, a former dispatcher and current director of the paramedic program at Stonybrook University (N.Y.).