Funding interoperable communications during a public health crisis

Departments should work with their finance office to review all available grant funds that could be redirected


One week ago, I would not have suggested to members of the first responder community that they need to reach out to other government entities, educational institutions and the nonprofit community to assist in efforts to secure interoperable communications. Today is a new day.

As we find ourselves in the middle of a national emergency, effective communications between local, state and federal agencies will be key to successful mitigation, response and recovery activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Special events are being canceled, schools and offices have been closed, and people are flocking to outdoor recreational sites such as open green spaces and beaches, which has placed an added strain on law enforcement.

Applying for “new” grants is highly recommended, however, those funds might not be available for 3-6 months. The faster solution would be for communities to modify budget requests of existing grants that could support the purchase of radios and safety-related items for first responders. Most requests are submitted online and approved/denied within 72 hours.

Agencies may be able to move grants funds to acquire communications and safety gear. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Agencies may be able to move grants funds to acquire communications and safety gear. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Departments should work with their finance office professionals to review all available grant funds that could be redirected. Note: Departments must submit a written request to grantors to move the funds before spending the money.

Here are some examples of potential grant repurposing:

FY17, FY18, FY19 Justice Assistance Grants

Funds that were earmarked for programs such as delinquency prevention and community policing initiatives that required in-person contact will be canceled. Propose to move the funds to acquire communications and safety gear.

PREA grants

Correctional facilities should inquire about the use of PREA funds (Prison Rape Elimination Act) or ReEntry grants that were earmarked for classroom instruction, GED testing, etc., to cover electronic monitoring of offenders in the community to decrease the number of low-risk offenders in crowded facilities.

Education grants

Schools may have grant funds from the Department of Education that were earmarked for new computers in the classrooms. Many classrooms are closed. Are they able to support safety-related items for first responders to help keep students safe in the community?

Economic Development and Tourism Funds

Check with local and state departments to request assistance. Events that have been canceled no longer need money to rent portable bathrooms or to print fliers. The longer communities are unsafe, these agencies will suffer. Consider reaching out to advise of critical communications and safety needs for first responders.

Communities need to move away, at least temporarily, from silos of funding.  All accounts, especially time-sensitive grant funding accounts, should be reviewed to support critical emergency needs. This applies to government, non-profits and private industry. There is no guarantee that all requests will be approved, but it is worth a try.

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