Public Safety Grant News and Tips by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant
If you are like most Fire/EMS agencies who applied to the 2012 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, you are currently finding yourself in one of 3 positions.
- You have already received or have a notification of a pending award on the grant. You are joyfully doing the “AFG Award Happy Dance”;
- You were one of the unfortunate approximately 6-7K agencies who received the dreaded “Dear John” computer rejection notice on March 21. You are still licking your wounds and wondering where you went wrong;
- Out of the 12,000 AFG applications submitted, yours was one of the approximately 4,500 applications that has made it to the peer panel. You are now biting your nails, wondering if you scored high enough to be one of the expected 1,200 awards that is yet to be announced.
Let’s do a little recap of the 2012 AFG: up to this point.
FY 2012 opened for applications on June 11, 2012, and closed July 6, 2012. It was only open for 26 days. If FEMA follows the same schedule as last year, which looks likely, then that means we are less than 60 days out from the program opening up.
It also means that there are only approximately 10 more rounds of funding awards to be made for the 2012 AFG program.
$285,625,000 in fire grant award funding was available through the FY2012 program. Although that is a far cry from what was available in 2006, it is still a substantial pool of money. So far in the 20 rounds of awards that have occurred, there have been 1,216 total awards for $131,718.259. 1,178 awards were for Operations and Safety, totaling $120,494,453. 38 vehicles have been awarded, for a total of $11,223,806. The average award for Operations and Safety works out to $102,287, and $295,363 for Vehicle Acquisitions.
The FY2013 AFG program will have almost identical funding levels as it did in the FY2012 AFG program. Based upon this data, what lessons can we see emerging?
- Your chances of winning a vehicle are pretty slim with this little money in the program. The single most common reason for a computer rejection notice on vehicles this year is that the average overall age of the fleet was not old enough. That means your average age of fleet needs to be 20+ years to get any preference here.
- The good news is that it appears that, as the AFG officials warned, if you asked for high-priority items they are getting funded at a pretty decent rate. That’s good news for those departments looking at projects that have a high priority with AFG.
So, regardless of where you are in the “waiting game” right now, you need to get out of the La-Z-Boy and start prepping yourself for the 2013 program. Now is the time to start the development process for your 2013 applications. There are several things you could be doing right now which will help you in the coming months leading up to applying to this program once again.
- Conduct a comprehensive “Needs Assessment” of your department. Do the homework now and conduct a good hard look at what your most critical needs are and then prioritize what those needs are. When you are prioritizing those needs, be sure to keep in mind that it is better to plan these things in stages. Do not put too much on your plate to be handled in one year.
- Plans for upgrading, starting new programs and equipment replacement should be done in small increments. Look at starting a program by first training your personnel and getting them certified to perform the tasks and or to use equipment that you intend to purchase. Start small with a “scaled down” mini-program and document some success with that program. Then, in the next year, build upon the success of that program and seek funding to “expand” the scope of the program based upon a proven track record. This is a proven strategy for achieving funding success.
- Look at forming a grants team. It is really impossible, as public safety officers, to research, gather statistical data, compose, write and apply for all the grants that exist out there every year. Although we strive to ease that burden for you, we will never be able to do ALL of the tasks that need to be accomplished for a successful application. Remember, TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes Much).
- Think “training aid” not “equipment.” You may not find a grant which will fund the “equipment” itself, but if you put on a training course which requires that equipment to teach the course, it now becomes a training aid and as such may become eligible for using grant funds to purchase.
- Utilize and consider looking for private and corporation grants. The private sector knows the importance of funding vital community assets, and they know its good PR too.
- Seek, identify and quantify what “critical infrastructure” you have in your area. DHS grants are given based upon known and identified risk or potential risk to a community. By seeking out, identifying, quantifying and listing what critical infrastructure assets your community or area has within it, you afford yourself greater priority in the funding selection process.
- Get your statistical data, run/call volume breakdowns, area demographics and census information. Copies of your last year’s budget, maintenance costs, personnel costs, sources of income, billing vs. collectibles statements, etc.
Grants are usually quite cyclical in nature, and as such it is generally very easy to go back and look at previous AFG Program Guidance documents in order to determine the program’s suitability and eligibility of your department and the priority status of what you are seeking. This will then allow you to predict and plan for matching dollars to be available in your upcoming budget so that you may apply and accept a grant award if you are successful. This only makes common sense as it is a colossal waste of time to develop and apply for a grant funding program only to have to refuse the award because you did not have the matching dollars available.
Finally, recognize that AFG officials warned us last year of a couple of things which have proven absolutely true and/or problematic. I witnessed many departments fall victim to violating them this year, and they received computer rejections notices as a result.
They also gave us some good strong advice which we all need to heed. They are:
- If you have ever been awarded something on the AFG program in any previous year, do not ask for the same items. AFG philosophy is this. The grant is pretty much designed to be a hand-up, not a hand-out. If they have already “bailed you out” of a situation where you failed to properly plan financially to replace items which you should have known had a limited service life, then they are not going to pony up money to bail you out of that same financial bind again, especially considering that there are departments out there that have still never had the first bite at the apple.
- Be sure that whatever item you are requesting is marked as having a high priority to AFG. It is only common sense that if you have an increasingly smaller and smaller pool of money, that you need to limit what you will or will not fund. This is not rocket science here, folks. It’s plain and simple: if it’s not on their list as a high-priority item, then don’t ask for it and waste your application. Find something that is high priority.
- Get registered and/or update your information in SAM.gov. Get out and get comprehensively educated properly about the grant programs. Knowledge is power. The more you understand the program, the better prepared you will be to let that knowledge guide your decision-making process in developing and selecting the proper program to develop and pursue.
- Train, train, train! I cannot emphasize this enough. We all know that the number one way to increase firefighter safety is to train. If you expect the AFG program, whose main purpose is to increase firefighter safety, to give you $150,000 worth of new high-tech expensive equipment, then you should be able to demonstrate to them that your personnel are properly trained and certified to safely use it. “If you want the toys, you got to train the boys!”
- Never underestimate the power and strength in numbers. Using a regional approach to use one grant application to fulfill projects for many areas may improve your project’s cost/benefit, which is a great aid in getting a project past the computer, into the “competitive range” and sent along to peer review.
Now get up off the sofa, jump off the fence and get busy for another great grant season!
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