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.).
The path to interoperability requires common platforms and secure paths that allow incident details to be shared. Incoming call handling, outbound mobilization and case management must bridge all major regional partners for true communications interoperability. NG9-1-1, a DOT initiative, was conceived to promote interoperability; enable PSAPs to accept and use text, video and other data sources; allow you to transfer a call with accumulated data; and coordinate a centralized incident-based response. IP-enabled systems and networks that promote the fluid sharing of crisis-specific data are a reality and will serve as the architectural foundation of the currently defined scope of NG9-1-1.
Current models of public safety communications support incoming calls only via certain paths, such as 9-1-1 and 3-1-1. Can a 3-1-1 center operate on the same platform as a 9-1-1 system? Absolutely, and there are already regions in the U.S. bridging this three-digit synergy. If emergency and non-emergency (9-1-1 and 3-1-1) calls can be managed on the same architecture, the questions become, “What else (and who else) can we serve with like-challenges and common goals? Can (and should) an existing communications architecture already managing the most critical public safety calls serve a greater population without requiring multiple systems to be purchased, deployed and serviced?”
Emerging technologies, such as broadband, wireless data networks, IP-based mobile communications devices and location-based commercial services, are being designed to meet interoperable and emergency communications challenges. The coordination of multi-stream, multi-source data in real time is the goal. There’s also a lot of talk about emergency notification systems and social media.
With all of these initiatives and new technologies being bandied about, you should define what you want your regional operation to look like and get it started on your terms before someone does it for you.
Adapt your objectives, and think beyond the narrow need you may have already identified. From 9-1-1 there’s a natural progression to emergency management, infrastructure protection and homeland security.
Mark Pallans, system administrator for the Nevada Shared Radio System, says, “The most important thing to remember when writing a grant is this: Don’t write the grant telling them what you want. Tell them what they want to hear, and you stand a chance of getting a better score.”
So tell a compelling story. Fear has been a motivating factor in getting the government to spend its money since the inception of government as a concept. Ask “what if,” and create a scenario: What if the city’s water supply becomes contaminated with a foreign substance? What if a pipe bomb were found on a city bus?
Consider regional solutions: If a tragedy of non-traditional proportions were to strike your region, you would need a secure, fluid and architecturally superior solution in place to control the threat. Could the city’s water supply be equipped with a single communications feed that would trigger a “smart alert” system to automatically activate the 9-1-1 system and Department of Water and Power resources, mobilize first responders, alert hospitals and medical centers and notify all citizens in the affected geographic area about what they should do?
If your solution involves upgrading the 9-1-1 system to a common, countywide platform, you’ll be implementing the backbone architecture required for multi-agency interoperability.
Careful planning and grant funding can provide regions with the right tools and solutions before the what ifs happen. And solutions that bridge political jurisdictions tend to become funded solutions. Become the champion for regional solutions in your area. Set up meetings with the decision makers from other agencies and start the conversation today. Involving more stakeholders in your project will only increase your odds of success in the grant-funding arena.
A regional task force could serve as the guidance and governance authority for, and the fiscal recipient of, any grant funds.
Another consideration: Job creation is a high priority for the new administration. Will your project involve bringing on new employees to implement and manage a new system? Can the jobs be made permanent? Create a repeatable, annually fundable model.
The federal government is looking for regions to define how they plan to manage these NG9-1-1 challenges, and they’re looking for a reason to fund them. Think big. You’re not going to get more than you ask for.
After you’ve identified your true need, found your champions and supporters, built a cross-agency coalition and found a grant that you think will answer your need, it’s time to tell your story in the form of a grant application. Some tips to get you started:
One common reason grant applications get rejected is that the applicant did not follow the directions. The need to read and follow the application directions cannot be overstated.
You must demonstrate advance planning. The SAFECOM Guidance for Federal Grant Programs states, “Planning activities help to prioritize needs, build capabilities, update preparedness strategies, allocate resources, and deliver preparedness programs across multiple disciplines and levels of government.”
According to SAFECOM, multi-agency partnerships should facilitate planning activities, such as assessments of:
Be prepared to explain how the funds you’re seeking will be used to mitigate the risk of the disaster waiting to happen. And make sure you give the policy makers a way to spend the money wisely. Quantify the benefits. Create a budget and track how the money is spent. Be accountable.
In a message to his agency about the use of a $3.3 million grant his department was awarded, LESA director Tom Orr said, “This is what citizens and taxpayers expect of us: to conceptualize and develop new ways to address the same old problems in a manner that increases their feelings of safety and, at the same time, is done in a cost-effective manner. It means we are stretching every tax dollar as far as possible and assuring taxpayers that they are getting a return on their investment.”
You don’t have to go it alone. PSAPs around the nation are doing the same things you are and trying to find solutions to the same problems. For examples, see p. 9.
The Bottom Line
Different federal grant programs are subject to different statutory requirements and authorities, so this article offers general guidance. But one rule applies: You can get what you need by giving the government policy makers what they want.
Keri Losavio is the editor of Public Safety Communications and the deputy editor of law enforcement/communications for Elsevier Public Safety. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1: DHS Funding Distribution—FY 2009 & FY 2010
Program FY 2009 FY 2010
Homeland Security Grant Program
State Homeland Security Program $861,265,000 $842,000,000
Urban Areas Security Initiative $798,631,250 $832,520,000
Operation Stonegarden $60,000,000 $60,000,000
Metropolitan Medical Response System $39,831,404 $39,359,956
Citizen Corps Program $14, 572,500 $12,480,000
Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program $1,660,000 <=$10,000,000
UASI Nonprofit Security Grant Program $15,000,000 $19,000,000
Emergency Management Performance Grants $306,022,500 $329,799,991
Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program $48,575,000 $48,000,000
Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program $31,002,500 $33,600,000
Emergency Operations Center Grant Program $34,002,500 $57,600,000
Driver’s License Security Grant Program $48,575,000 $48,000,000
Buffer Zone Protection Program $48,575,000 $48,000,000
Port Security Grant Program $388,600,000 $288,000,000
Intercity Passenger Rail (Amtrak) $25,000,000 $20,000,000
Freight Rail Security Grant Program $15,000,000 $15,000,000
Intercity Bus Security Grant Program $11,658,000 $11,520,000
Trucking Security Program $2,224,750 $0
TOTAL $3,098,795,404 $2,714,879,947
Online Grant Resources
Links to additional grant information can be found on APCO’s Web site at www.apcointl.org/new/commcenter911/resource.html .