Federal Grant Options for Narrowbanding Procurements
October 13, 2010
By Vince Siragusa
As the clock continues to tick toward full implementation of the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate, many government communications personnel find themselves focusing on identifying next steps in their public-safety communications plans. Narrowbanding calls for each VHF and UHF LMR system using 25-kilohertz wideband channels to comply with a channel “refarming,” which requires technologies to provide 12.5-kilohertz equivalency.
The goal of channel width reduction is to allow government agencies to take advantage of more efficient technology, as well as allow additional channels to exist within the same spectrum. Previous 25-kilohertz channel licensees will not automatically receive two 12.5-kilohertz channels to replace the old configuration. Through an FCC application process, licensees must justify a need for a second channel under a new or modified narrowband license. Exploring and identifying actionable steps now will help mitigate any number of issues that will arise Jan. 1, 2013. Any agency, large or small, not narrowband compliant by 2013 faces the imminent loss of licensed communications capabilities.
Each year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) presents a list of eight national priorities in its national preparedness guidelines. These priorities and guidelines are intended to advise various stakeholders in a coordinated effort to meet the nation’s most urgent needs. Recognizing that interoperable communications has historically been a huge gap for many first responders, “strengthen interoperable and operable communications capabilities” will likely continue to be a key component of those eight national priorities.
For many cash-strapped state and local governments, achieving full communications is hampered less by a lack of technology options than by a lack of funding to support those upgrades. Fortunately, governments at both the state and federal level are aware of the various network and equipment needs facing many of the country’s public-safety departments. For entities that can present their needs in conjunction with a well-planned programmatic approach to achieving their goals, grant programs are available to facilitate the narrowbanding compliance process. In this sense, narrowbanding isn’t completely an unfunded mandate.
For agencies not in a position to fund their entire communications needs from existing resources, grant funding can supplement what’s available locally. Below is a short reference of some of the communications-friendly grant programs available from the federal government.
State Homeland Security Program (SHSP).
Of the DHS programs, the SHSP is likely the broadest in scope and most far-reaching in its impact of a variety of state, local and tribal homeland-security partners. The program provides $842 million that must support terrorism preparedness by building, or in many cases enhancing, various capabilities that relate to the prevention and response to terrorism. Fortunately, many capabilities that support terrorism preparedness simultaneously support preparedness for other “all hazards” such as natural disaster, public safety and emergency management. Communications network infrastructure and end-user devices would be appropriate here. Potential applicants may want to think about developing a regional project instead of a strictly local-level initiative. Contact your state administrative agency (SAA) for additional information and next steps at www.fema.gov/government/grant/saa/index.shtm
Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS).
This program provides $40 million to 124 individually identified jurisdictions to support local emergency management, health and medical systems to develop a coordinated local response capability. Solutions involving continuation of operations in the aftermath of an emergency and interoperable communications are appropriate here. Visit www.fema.gov/pdf/government/grant/2010/fy10_hsgp_kit.pdf
for additional information.
Operation Stonegarden Program (OPSG). This DHS program provides $60 million for security of U.S. borders — international maritime boarders as well as those bordering Mexico and Canada. OPSG is designed to enhance coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement. Programmatic support would include funding interoperable communications projects for those responsible for the security of U.S. borders.
Justice Assistance Grants (JAG).
This Department of Justice (DOJ) program, funded at more than $500 million in 2010, provides multiple funding avenues for grant support. Forty percent of the JAG funds available are provided directly to large municipalities based on a Bureau of Statistics formula using variables such as population and part one violence crime statistics. Information on direct JAG allocations is available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/grant/10jagallocations.html
. The JAG program’s allowance for local spending discretion makes this a prime program for local-level communications efforts. The remaining 60 percent of the total JAG money will make its way to each state. States will retain a portion of this money for state-level activities, but are also required to pass through a pre-determined percentage to local applicants. Contact your JAG state administrative agency (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/saa/index.htm
) for additional information on this pass-through process and timeline.
Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG).
The program, with funding of $340 million in 2010, provides financial assistance directly to fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations. Grant support is offered in an effort to enhance various capabilities with respect to fire-related hazards. The AFG supports three individual application categories with areas of giving ranging from turnout gear and vehicles to regional communications initiatives. In addition to providing funding for individual communications equipment, the program will also support communications network needs such as trunked radio systems, wireless technologies and other creative communications projects that support interoperability. Additional information is available at www.firegrantsupport.com
In recent years, governmental grant makers have increased their efforts and financial assistance for various communications projects. In turn, that focus has gone a long way in opening some new funding opportunities for interoperability that meet FCC compliance requirements. As homeland-security and public-safety efforts continue to evolve, this trend will undoubtedly continue into fiscal-year (FY) 2011 and beyond. While agencies like the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are providing the architectural plans for communications advancement, government organizations may want to explore these and other grant programs for assistance with actual network buildouts.
Vincent Siragusa is a grants development consultant for the Rochester, N.Y.-based Grants Office. Founded in 2000, Grants Office provides innovative grants development services that enable corporations, municipalities and nonprofit organizations to maximize their grant initiatives. Siragusa 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. Additional information is available at www.grantsoffice.com
. Contact Siragusa at email@example.com