Public safety communications agencies hoping to upgrade equipment or hire more personnel have for years sought needed funds with grants or financial assistance from government agencies. One traditional option is funding from the biggest tamales in the public safety grant world: Those offered through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But there’s a competitive catch: For every federal dollar granted, more than $7 is refused. Some departments have full-time grant writers who know specifically which literal nuggets might interest federal agencies. But most do not. With that in mind, some vendors have put their competitive experience to work by offering grant-writing assistance to public safety agencies.
The grant success stories described here include examples from agencies that received vendor assistance and one that went it alone. The grant amounts the agencies obtained varied from a low of $53,000 in a matching funds grant up to a $3.3 million grant for a real-time crime center. Another agency is still waiting for word on its application, but the director is optimistic about its chances.
Out of the Ashes
PlantCML, an EADS North America company, markets mission-critical communications and response technologies and assists public safety agencies seeking grants. And it’s gone one better: steering agencies toward lesser known funds they are more likely to obtain.
“There are incredible funds out there that are just sitting because no one knows about them,” says Rob Clark, RFP contract manager for PlantCML. “If we’re only thinking about the larger pots, we’re missing all the others. If we’re thinking linear, we’re going to lose every time. We’ve got to be going through other avenues, and seeking out other grants that aren’t as well-known.”
PlantCML’s involvement in grant assistance was born during the 2007 California wildfires, when its REVERSE 911® emergency notification system was hailed as a lifesaver for many residents. But California agencies interested in acquiring that technology were suddenly up against another disaster: the tanking economy.
Plummeting property valuations meant decreased tax-based funding for public safety. And in the face of future fire seasons with little money to pay firefighters, REVERSE 911 took a backseat. Communications agencies reached out to PlantCML, and the grant writing assistance program developed.
Meth Risk in the Land of Lincoln
“Money is usually tied to a risk,” says Marge Bitetti, a certified grant writer who joined PlantCML two years ago, after years of experience with nonprofit agencies. “It’s money to cover risk.” But that’s only part of the story.
Recognizing how additional technology or specific personnel can aid the community by addressing that risk is one ingredient to a successful grant application. The key is to then identify which grants can help address an agency’s specific issues, and writing the grant as a research-based document to prove that point.
One agency that hopes to benefit from a risk-related grant award is Coles County 9-1-1, based in central Illinois. The system is under consideration for a $300,000 grant that will help fund needed technical upgrades and a consolidation of the county’s 9-1-1 comm centers. The new PSAP would be located in the city of Matoon, where Coles County 9-1-1 is currently based in a building with room for expansion.
The predominately rural area is steeped in history. The log cabin where Abe Lincoln once lived is located in that service area, bringing tourists who aren’t necessarily familiar with the back roads of Coles County. The county needs the technology that would enable the comm center to trace the location of cell phone callers.
Coles County 9-1-1 Director Bernie Buttram is hoping to address those communication issues with a grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. The 50/50 matching proposal would help fund the needed comm center upgrades and hire more personnel. Those upgrades would assist in ferreting out something else that has taken hold in Coles County: the methamphetamine trade.
Coles County asked PlantCML for assistance in writing the grant application. As active as many public safety administrators are within their service areas, sometimes it takes an outside view to see a community’s needs.
“The government doesn’t just give out money because you want new equipment,” says Bitetti. “So we profile an area, determine what the problems are and write a grant around that. ... We worked on a ‘Weed and Seed’ grant [for Coles County]. Through research, we discovered the area has a meth problem. The grant was written for assistance to weed out the problem, then re-seed by providing education and public safety personnel to combat it.”
Bitetti says, “We do the research and present that, along with ideas we have to fund ways to combat those risks. You need to build a scenario that’s true to the location, and true to their needs.” Bitetti serves as a guide for customers, but does not write the actual grants. That’s up to the agency requesting those funds.
When Buttram first submitted the grant to the state, he wasn’t certain how far the grant would go and initially thought it had disappeared into the failed proposal chasm. Then in late November 2009, he learned the grant was still being considered. “They just wanted more specific information,” Buttram says. “We were told that unless we were looking to expand, the funding was likely to be denied.”
Because Coles County will be expanding its PSAP, state grantors were interested. The grant needed to be retooled with more statistics not only from Coles County, but also from neighboring Moultrie County (which will consolidate), and spell out more clearly how many jobs would be added and whether Coles County would match funds (Buttram says it would be a 50/50 matching grant).
An updated comm center, with NG9-1-1 technology and more personnel, would go a long way toward the community’s battle against meth, Buttram says. The proposed investment will include the PlantCML VESTA® Pallas suite, REVERSE 911 and ORION™ ARIES mapped ALI solution. Short-term benefits include job creation and enhanced public safety. Long term, the benefits will include a safer county, better coordination between agencies and more efficient response times.
Buttram filled in those requested blanks and resubmitted the grant. The Coles County 9-1-1 Board and director will seek additional cooperation from Eastern Illinois University and Lake Land Community College.
Currently, Buttram is waiting for an answer, but he has hopes the grant may go through because the state showed interest in the initial proposal.
All in the Presentation
With some states requiring PSAP consolidation in an effort toward interoperability, more comm centers are facing needed technological upgrades. Many stimulus grants are contingent on agencies being willing to hire more personnel, which has proved a difficult balance during economic lean times.
Skirting the southern edges of Indianapolis, the four PSAPs in Johnson County, Ind., collectively field more than 61,000 calls to 9-1-1 annually. The suburban housing boom might have slowed, but vehicle traffic has always been heavy in an area where more interstate highways intersect than anywhere else in the U.S. Administrators with the Johnson County 9-1-1 Board knew the county needed to implement a new system to enable automatic location of wireless callers.
Their financial solution for purchasing the technology came through the Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing 9-1-1 (ENHANCE 911) Act, authorized in 2004 through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (DOC’s) National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
“We saw [PlantCML’s] ORION™ MapStar as something that could identify the location of incoming wireless calls, and it fit with Phase II E9-1-1 grant for interoperability, strengthening communications and for helping emergency responders to locate a caller,” says Jeremy Pell, chair of Johnson County’s 9-1-1 board. “We knew we needed this technology, so we contacted AT&T to see what our options were.”
He contacted AT&T sales representative Craig Bennett regarding those funding options. In turn, Bennett, who had heard about the grant-writing service offered by PlantCML, contacted Marge Bitetti, who worked with Bennett to develop the grant so Johnson County could acquire the solution.
“The success of a lot of these grants depends on how they’re written,” Bennett says. “You have an advantage when you’re working with people who understand the system, and who know what is available.”
Bennett, who says he knows of other agencies with pending grants, says the entire process was very educational and illustrates that even in a competitive environment, agencies and companies nonetheless support each other through difficult economic times.
“I think a lot of agencies are frustrated because they’ve been turned down for grants,” Bennett says. “They aren’t aware of what’s still out there and available to them. I get a lot of e-mails about grant money that is available, and there sure is a lot of money still out there, just left on the table.”
Pell co-wrote the Phase II E9-1-1 grant as a 50/50 matching grant for $53,000 (half of the projected $106,000 cost of ORION MapStar). The grant, awarded to the Johnson County 9-1-1 Board, will cover all four of the county’s current PSAPs, and that technology should merge smoothly when the PSAPs are consolidated, Pell says. In Indiana, recent legislation has mandated no more than two PSAPs per county by 2014.
In addition to the Phase II E9-1-1 grant, Pell says more funds will be awarded through a DOJ Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Technology grant program. That grant, for more than $850,000, was written by Johnson County Sheriff Terry McLaughlin and awarded last year. The COPS grant will cover additional communications-related equipment for the largest of the county’s PSAPs, based out of the sheriff’s department.
“The bottom line is that we wanted to bring better service for our community,” Pell says. “We looked at the benefits of ORION MapStar. These are tools that are needed to save lives, and it fits into the infrastructure that will be developed with the COPS grant.”
With the success of the ENHANCE 9-1-1 grant to fund ORION MapStar, Pell says he hopes to cover the remaining 50% with a DHS grant.
Pell adds that agencies working within the same jurisdiction should share grant information with each other, especially when all the departments can benefit from improvements made by one agency. “All of our agencies are much stronger if we work together. So we try to network those opportunities,” Pell says.
Johnson County has an established tradition of receiving grants. Last year, White River Township Volunteer Fire Protection District (where Pell serves as chief) was awarded a $650,280 grant for hiring through the DHS Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program.
“When we’re seeking state and federal grants, we’re going to taxpayer funds that have already been paid,” Pell says. “I’d rather those funds come back to this county. [The funds are] already out there, but it’s competitive to get them, and that’s the intent. It’s the department’s responsibility to prove how much those funds are needed.”
Despite the successes, Pell recommends caution, especially in the wake of a sobering recession that has drained many department resources, and forced many agencies into hiring freezes. “We’re going to continue to look for opportunities to help fund our agency,” Pell says. “But I don’t want to get us into a commitment that the taxpayers can’t continue.”
Mixing Grants for Cooperative Outcomes
Another law enforcement agency that has succeeded in receiving grants is also setting standards, using those funds to develop cutting-edge programs for its community. The Washington state-based Law Enforcement Support Agency (LESA) recently utilized a $1 million federal COPS grant for rapidly deployable video equipment for field personnel. LESA handles 9-1-1 communications and record keeping for many agencies in the Seattle area, fielding more than 800,000 calls annually.
The COPS grant enabled LESA to purchase Focus Blue, a GPS-enabled surveillance video camera with interactive displays that can be controlled through multiple, Web-based interfaces (including the comm center and the officer’s laptop). The COPS grant, awarded for research and development, is geared toward assisting LESA with monitoring its service area.
The second grant, awarded several months ago, will incorporate Focus Blue in LESA’s Real Time Crime Center, currently under development. LESA was awarded the $3.3 million DOJ grant in September to develop the LARIAT (LESA Accelerated Response Using Integrated Analysis and Technology) Center.
“If you don’t have a good idea that’s new and different, something that’s going to benefit your department and others, that grant won’t be awarded,” says LESA Deputy Director Mike Carson, who co-authored the LARIAT grant with LESA Director Thomas Orr.
LARIAT, which will operate alongside LESA’s existing comm center in Tacoma, will link existing technologies of LESA’s comm center with crime databases. Grant-funded crime and tactical analysts will monitor incoming 9-1-1 calls and quickly coordinate background data on that response area, information given by calltakers, suspect identifications, aliases and their associations. That will provide vital, real-time information for comm center personnel and field officers, who previously would have relied on memory and harried research on their own while handling their initial responsibilities.
“One thing we do well is technology,” Carson says. “We have a lower ratio of staff here, and we’ve always leveraged that with technology.”
Working with the latest comm equipment (including Focus Blue), the techno-savvy comm and field personnel are looking forward to the LARIAT program. “There’s a lot of excitement in the comm center about LARIAT,” says Kris Dessen, public relations officer for LESA. “When a call will come into 9-1-1, the LARIAT Center will be pulling up that background information and getting it to the field officers sooner.”
The LARIAT grant award came at just the right time for other reasons. The law enforcement community in Washington is still reeling from the recent murders of five officers, and agencies are facing economic-based layoffs, as well. Carson says the LARIAT program could potentially save at least two jobs that otherwise would have been lost, saving years of priceless law enforcement expertise with local ties.
“[The LARIAT grant] has been a positive thing,” Carson says. “The amount of work is going to be enormous, but we’re optimistic.”
The grant for LARIAT will fund the program for two years, Carson says, and that development phase will double as LARIAT’s proving ground. “We want to prove the value of this new system before we ask our client agencies if they’ll assist with funding it further,” Carson says. “There are a number of directions we’re considering beyond that.”
Carson says he is certain, however, that future grants will be in the works for LESA. Following the successes of the grants for Focus Blue and LARIAT, the agency now has a grant writer who will assist them on a contract basis for future grant programs.
Many Paths; One Destination
Each of the agencies discussed here identified a different need and found a different grant to help fund its solution. These stories exemplify the truism that there’s no one right way. Money is out there. You just need to find a way to tap it, whether by writing your own grant application, asking for assistance from a vendor or hiring a grant-writing specialist to do it for you.
Grants awarded in Johnson County, Ind.
Receiving agency: Johnson County 9-1-1 Board
Amount granted: $53,000
Purpose: 50/50 matching grant to purchase ORION MapStar
Granting agency: Phase II E-911 (Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing 911, authorized through the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA])
Receiving agency: Johnson County Sheriff’s Department
Amount granted: $850,000
Purpose: Additional telecommunications equipment toward increased interoperability
Granting agency: COPS Technology grant program, through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services
Grant Under Consideration for Coles County 9-1-1
Amount of grant: $300,000
Type of grant: 50% matching
Purpose of grant: Funding for comm center consolidation and hiring of more personnel
Grant agency considering proposal: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority
Grants awarded to (LESA)
Receiving agency: LESA
Amount granted: $1 million
Purpose: Purchase and implementation of Focus Blue
Granting agency: COPS grant program, through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services
Receiving agency: LESA
Amount granted: $3.3 million
Purpose: Development and two-year implementation of LESA’s
Accelerated Response using Integrated Analysis and Technology (LARIAT) Center
Granting agency: Recovery Act’s Edward Byrne Memorial Grants Program, awarded through the U.S. Department of Justice