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Finding the Money for Communications Interoperability Purchases

By Doug Wyllie
Police One Senior Editor

The most obvious place for grant funding for law enforcement is the Byrne/JAG grant program — as long as the application can be tied to crime fighting — and on the Fire/EMS side the clearest path to funding is the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program. Before we explore some of the more "creative" alternatives, it’s a worthwhile exercise to briefly address the present status of these two major avenues for public safety grant funding.

Law enforcement agencies seeking to support their missions of protecting their communities have turned to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program as the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.

Named for NYPD Officer Edward R. Byrne, who was killed in the line of duty in the small hours of February 26, 1988, it has been more than two decades since state and local law enforcement first began applying for the program. After the deadline for this funding was extended an additional 30 days — presumably to allow agencies a reasonable time period to put together their proposals — the opportunity to present applications for 2010 Byrne/JAG grants passed in late June 2009. The principal implication of this is that agencies should now begin to plan for the application process that begins anew next year. Administrators should begin their needs assessment as well as selecting grant writers.

Instituted about a decade ago and now one of the principal sources of funding for technology infrastructure and equipment for the fire service, AFG program funding came under fire in the Obama Administration's proposed 2010 budget, which suggested reducing funds for AFG by 70 percent, from $565 million to $170 million.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have since restored significant levels of funding to AFG within the FY 2010 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, which will now go to a conference committee. Both the House-passed bill and Senate-passed bill would provide $390 million in funding for AFG.

FireRescue1 columnist Jerry Brant recently wrote, "Those of us in the field know that the program has been a blessing to thousands of departments across the nation. Do we grumble when all of our applications are not approved? Sure. But the volume of applicants to this program exceeds the allocated funding each year. That in itself should send administration officials a message that the AFG Program should be considered for an increase in spending, not a reduction."

The important thing to remember is that the landscape is constantly changing, so putting one or two of your agency's personnel in charge of keeping up to date on this stuff is an excellent strategy. This does not necessarily have to be your grant writer — find out who among your troops is interested in this stuff and reward their initiative. The investment will almost certainly pay off for your agency and your community.

State Stabilization Funds
In addition to the abovementioned funds for which agencies compete every year in state budgets and federal grant funding, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) contains a number of new opportunities for agencies to get assistance in making technology and equipment purchases directed toward the goal of enhancing public safety and increasing the growth of jobs in the United States.

Of particular interest is the so-called "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund" (SFSF), where there may be as much as $8.8 billion in additional funds available to public safety agencies through an appropriation in the Department of Education allotment of the $53.6 billion ARRA.

Because the allocation of 18 percent of SFSF is left to the discretion of the elected officials at the state level, State Stabilization funds may be the clearest path for agencies to seek financial support. In effect, the more creative, proactive agency grant writer will have an advantage in securing this "hidden" money.

Rick Wimberly, President of Galain Solutions, a consultancy serving public safety organizations, says, "About the best shot for obtaining communications gear from the stimulus, beyond the obvious places like Byrne/JAG grants, would be the State Stabilization funds, provided the states place public safety communications high on their priority lists. I've not heard of any states doing that so far, but still some states haven't decided yet how they intend to use their stabilization money. Whether governors will allocate stabilization funds to public safety is yet to be seen. If they like, governors can spend their full allotment for education. Unless a governor specifically allocates a portion of a state's fund to public safety, public safety organizations will need to compete with other government services."

Alternately, they can collaborate with other government services. One creative agency in South Carolina teamed with its local school district in an application for federal funds that potentially would provide about $250,000 and bring 303 video surveillance cameras to the district. The camera system has a feature that would enable police to tap into it remotely and pull up images and see live video from schools in emergency situations.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, a strong proponent of video surveillance systems, told the Charleston Post and Courier, "We can't have a school administrator or school resource officer at every point…The next best thing are these types of technologies that allow us to be in more places at one time."

The Charleston Police and School District will learn sometime this autumn whether or not their proposal was successful. Although the State Stabilization funding is not specifically named in this instance, this example serves as a good general model for all public safety agencies to follow: Tie your mission to that of other agencies seeking funding and you may find some very interesting ways to garner necessary funding.

Wimberly adds, "The best thing for public safety agencies to do is make sure they're dialed in to the legislators and state entities responsible for making decisions on how the money will be spent. Meantime, there are smaller grant programs originating from other sources that require public safety to team with other organizations. You'll see more and more of this as organizations, both public safety and others, are forced to get more creative in finding funds."

There is Hidden Treasure Buried on Many Beaches
Margaret Stark, a consultant who helps public safety agencies navigate the waters of grant applications, says that there are myriad alternative places where funding can be found — that it's merely a matter of turning up sand on the right shores.

Stark says that among multiple grant programs for which funding can be used for interoperable communications are the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) Grant Program and the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program (IECGP).

"In 2006, Congress mandated that $1 billion for Public Safety Interoperable Communications be administered by the Department of Commerce," says Stark. "Originally, the program was intended to be a one-time opportunity, but the newest authorizing statute for homeland security has extended the program — now called the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program — through 2012."

Stark also says that funding for the acquisition of interoperable communications infrastructure can be sought through the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP), a wide-reaching program that funds planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise activities in support of the National Preparedness Guidelines and related plans and programs. Several such programs are the National Incident Management System (NIMS), National Response Framework (NRF), and the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP). Tying your community’;s need to build a robust interoperable system to any such funds should not be terribly difficult.

"This year, 25 percent of the overall funding must address preparedness planning and mitigating the threat of improvised explosive devices. States will have an opportunity to revise their applications prior to final submission this year, based on feedback received from DHS staff and subject matter experts. It is imperative that you stay engaged throughout the submission process, as projects will be modified based upon the feedback states receive."

Among the other places Stark says is the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Program, which provides funding to support target-hardening activities by nonprofit organizations that are considered at high risk for international terrorist attack.

"While this funding is provided specifically to high-risk nonprofit organizations, the program seeks to integrate nonprofit preparedness activities with broader state and local preparedness efforts," Stark says.

In addition, funding can be obtained in programs such as the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program and the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program (PDM), which provides funds to states, territories, tribes, and communities for hazard mitigation planning and for the implementation of mitigation projects prior to a disaster event. Another avenue to consider is the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) program, which is aimed at aiding state and local emergency managers in developing, maintaining and improving their emergency management capabilities.

Stark also offers, "the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) supports sustainable, risk-based efforts to protect critical transit infrastructure from terrorism, especially explosives and non-conventional threats that would cause major disruption to commerce and significant loss of life. Funding is provided to owners and operators of the nation's critical transit infrastructure, including rail, freight rail, intra-city bus, ferry systems, and Amtrak."

In all of these examples (and assuredly, many others) all you need to do is clearly tie your technological infrastructure requirements to any of the objectives stated in these very unique types of initiative and you may just be successful.

Broadband Funding
Most recently, guidelines for obtaining a potential $7.2 billion in broadband grants (also part of the ARRA stimulus package) was released in early July. Those funds break out thusly: $4.7 billion is contained in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), and $2.5 billion resides in the Rural Utilities Service Broadband Investment Program administered by the Department of Agriculture.

These may be the freshest fish in the market, and also the most directly tied to implementing any sort of interoperable communications system for public safety. Sounds odd, but it's true.

Wimberly explains, "There are two large national broadband grant programs. The one with most obvious pertinence to public safety is the 4.7-billion-dollar broadband grant program administered by the Commerce Department. The primary purpose of the program is to make broadband accessible to underserved populations, but there’;s a discreet clause in the program that says grant proceeds may be used for public safety purposes. These grant programs will be very competitive, and if public safety wants to be included, they’;ll want to consider teaming with other entities. For example, we're involved in an initiative that would team public safety with universities, libraries, research centers, and other organizations."

Wimberly says that the Agriculture Department program appears to be a bit more locked down to those with existing rural connectivity programs, but there are differing opinions that suggest money may be found here as well.

For example, many smaller cities located within large swaths of agriculturally developed land can use grants for traffic lights, vehicle location, and smart grid meter reading — many of which are traditionally made available through Department of Agriculture — as justification for monies to implement the backend wireless infrastructure on which public safety communications can also run. Many IP-based systems have very sophisticated systems to allow priority access to public safety in the event of an emergency, while allowing other agencies and departments to "use the road" during times of diminished police and fire activity.

The money is out there. All the funding sources noted above — even those for which deadlines have passed — are good things to be thinking about for your grant proposals this year, next year, and years into the future. Some of the key things to do as you go forward are:

1. Collaborate with other public safety agencies outside your jurisdiction in making your proposals

2. Tie the stated objectives of the grant for which you are applying directly to your strategy.

3. Be creative and think about the ways other agencies within your city or town can be your partner.

4. Press the envelope of "what's possible" because in this game, the most creative are the winners.

5. When in doubt, ask questions — there are many resources available to you so use them!

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