4 Tips to Maximize Your Grant Funding
Tuesday, February 01, 2011 | Comments
By Vincent Siragusa
As public-safety and homeland-security threats have evolved over the years, so too has the need for adequate technology infrastructure and communications equipment to enable first responders to address those risks. For communications projects, this preparedness comes at a high cost that demands time commitments, spectrum space, governmental cooperation and, of course, locally derived budgets.
Successful interoperable communications deployment is usually defined by the timely sharing of voice and data traffic between disparate parties. In the scope of public-safety communications, true interoperability goes beyond equipment working off an IT backbone to include human and bureaucratic elements as well. Operational relationships must be in place to develop standard operating procedures and protocols, to establish mutual-aid agreements, and to assign roles and responsibilities for the governance, planning, implementation and daily use of the technology.
Until relatively recently, widespread coordination of public-safety communications has been hampered by a lack of clear guidance from federal and state governments and, at times, a lack of federal financial support. In 2007, the successful Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) program kick-started a major initiative to create state plans for interoperable communications and, more importantly, created a mechanism to ensure that the projects being developed at state and local levels were consistent with the emerging statewide communications interoperability plans (SCIPs).
Each state has an approved SCIP that provides a framework for deploying emergency communications projects around the state, and most grant programs require that proposed communications projects be compliant with the state’s plan, as well as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) communications program known as Safecom.
The goal for any interoperability initiative is to ensure that first responders have the tools and training to effectively address emergencies in real time. Following are some tips and resources that will help you and your project obtain grant support.
Get Your Project on Paper
Face-to-face discussions are great for explaining a need, sharing an idea and exploring next steps. However, the ease of verbal dialogue shouldn’t come at the expense of putting pen to paper to articulate your project. Getting information on paper that can be shared, presented and referenced is a key strategic component for any successful grant-seeking endeavor.
Work with vendors and manufacturers to gather information on the solutions they have to offer. Ask them to provide a bill of materials and to help with a corresponding budget. Always be as specific as possible when working on your project plans. By documenting as much of your project as possible, you’ll help to facilitate conversation and to keep your project in the hands of those who can advocate for its inclusion in state and local level plans.
Before you can request funding for specific solutions via a grant application, you should first identify the gaps in your current communications capabilities and document how you will address any shortcomings. Assessing the tools you have now will be a first step in determining what is necessary to fill the holes. Be advised, an equipment-centric “shopping-cart proposal” that fails to acknowledge shortcomings beyond just a lack of technology isn’t likely to garner full consideration from a grantor.
As your project develops, be open to the idea that full deployment may require a phased approach. For many projects — local, regional or statewide — sufficient funding will depend on leveraging multiple funding sources. A successful approach may be built on dovetailing one project into another. Where one program’s funding priorities end, the next will pick up, allowing the consolidated project to be as comprehensive as possible.
Solidify Partnerships
In the grant world, it’s common, and funders often expect to see, multiple local agencies combine their ideas and needs in one aggregate project. Organizations such as hospitals, schools, law-enforcement agencies and fire departments quite often will have individual sources of money available to them, which in turn afford the collective project potential funding from a wider range of sources. For example, a school district collaborating with a local police department on a communitywide communications project is eligible to apply for and receive funds for its share of the project, in addition to funds that may be secured by the police department.
Projects that take a regional or communitywide approach are continuing to gain popularity among decision makers at state and federal levels. Economies of scale, increased coordination and equipment compatibility all come as a result of this collaborative approach. Additionally, the grant maker will often get more bang for the buck by supporting a regional project over a strictly local-level initiative.
Cultivating successful partnerships requires that each participant be an active member of the team’s collective effort, both contributing and benefiting from an association with other project members. Be both creative and judicious with whom you select as a project partner.
Understand the Grant’s Pathway
An integral step in positioning a project for grant funding is to first understand the mechanisms by which those funds are made available. Is the program you are considering competitively awarded or block/formula based? Will the funds be directly awarded to the recipient, or is there a state or regional-level intermediary involved in the process? What is the award size and number of awards made? What are the local-level priorities and deadlines? Before you commit the time and resources necessary to pursue a grant solicitation, begin by gathering relevant information about the grant’s funding pathway and application requirements.
For insight into the answers to these questions, there is nothing quite as important as the program’s guidance document, which could also be called a notice of funds availability (NOFA) or request for proposals (RFP). The guidance document contains valuable information that will likely include program priorities, eligibility requirements, application methods and deadline dates. Read this document, highlight applicable sections and useful information, and refer to it often during the proposal development process. Once you have a good understanding of the program details, you can move on to the process by which funds are distributed and determines who you will be applying to.
For many communications projects, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should be at the top of the list of potential grant funders. DHS oversees about $4 billion in annual funding to help state, local, tribal and private-sector entities strengthen their ability to prepare for, prevent and respond to terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies. Common to much DHS funding is the use of a pass-through mechanism by which the federal money flows or is passed through each state as the grant support makes its way to local and regional projects. The theory behind this funding mechanism is that individual states are better able to target state needs than their federal counterpart. Individual state discretion in this model results in grant eligibility, priorities and application processes that differ from one state to the next. Fortunately, each state has an initial point of contact to help facilitate the state’s application and administration of this funding.
Specifically designated by each state’s governor, the State Administrative Agency (SAA) is tasked with applying for and administering DHS funding at the state level. Generally, the SAA is a person or department within each state’s division of emergency management. This contact should be able to provide information on the local or regional coordinator or task force that has been established to administer funding for the region. Open communications and consistent relationship building with the SAA and regional decision makers can go a long way toward encouraging the purse string holders to advocate for your project’s inclusion in regional and, eventually, state funding plans.
Regional collaboration is a great way to help avoid unnecessary redundancy and to make the best use of available federal funds. Anything emergency management officials can do to coordinate with others and be as much a part of the planning process as possible will help them get some of the pass-through money available. In the event that support in the current fiscal year isn’t available, understanding the process will help you garner consideration for your project in next year’s application.
Understand Grant Options
A number of factors, even geography, can contribute to opening or closing the door to funding possibilities. Rural locations may find assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Program in the same way that their urban counterparts leverage DHS’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) program. In any location, those with unfunded communications projects should view adequate technology as only one piece of a much larger picture. If it is documented faithfully, a well-planned project will contain aspects and nuances that easily determine what the best and most relevant funding opportunities are for that project, with that group of collaborators, in that geographic location.
While patience is a virtue, you don’t have to be a latent applicant when it comes to funding communications projects. The pursuit of grant funding is, in most cases, a zero-sum game in which educated and aggressive applicants often prevail. Arming yourself with good information and acting on that intelligence will help present your needs and objectives in a way that will be better received than going in cold or just waiting for your share. Here are some resources to help your team’s continued quest for communications funding:
Grants.gov. Grants.gov allows organizations to electronically identify and apply for competitive grant opportunities from all federal grant-making agencies. Would-be applicants can sign up to receive e-mail notifications of new grant opportunity postings and updates on the Grants.gov site.
FEMA.gov/grants. This resource houses a variety of DHS-related materials and information on all-hazards mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery and other associated grant-related resources.
Firegrantsupport.com. As the official site for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program, firegrantsupport.com is a valuable resource for EMS and fire suppression organizations all across the county. Three types of grants are explored including the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER), and Fire Prevention and Safety Grants (FP&S).
Ojp.usdoj.gov. The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides innovative leadership to federal, state, local and tribal justice systems, by disseminating knowledge and practices across America and providing grants for the implementation of various crime-fighting strategies.
Interoperabilitygrants.info. Powered by Grants Office, this site includes information on the local, state and federal grants related to communications interoperability. The site also allows registration to attend free ongoing webcasts that address a number of grant-related topics.
Public-Safety Communications Potential Funding Sources
Government Bonds System User Fees
Capital Outlay Appropriations Private Foundations
General Fund Appropriations Federal Grants
Lease Purchase Earmarks
Sales Tax State Grants
Surcharge Fees (Driver's Licenses, etc.)  
 Source: Motorola
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Editor's Note: An abbreviated version of this article is in the February issue of MissionCritical Communications on Page 24.

Vincent Siragusa is a grants development consultant for Rochester, N.Y.-based Grants Office. He consults on grant submissions for a variety of municipalities and public-safety organizations across the country and regularly makes grant-related presentations with a focus on public safety and homeland security. Contact Siragusa at vsiragusa@grantsoffice.com.    

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