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Seven Steps for Wireless Communications Grants

Written by Lee Connor

A significant amount of grant money is out there for law enforcement initiatives, but where do you find grants? How do you apply? What steps can you take to increase your chance of receiving funds? The seven steps in this article will help you answer those questions and will provide a framework for successful grant writing.

While the following steps will be helpful in creating a successful grant, don’t get the wrong idea. The writing process is complicated, time consuming and will test your patience, but following these steps will help you create a winning proposal.

The following steps were developed specifically for wireless communications systems grants, but these concepts can be applied to the grant applications for most public safety programs and technologies.

Step 1: Identify the Need

Clearly identify what you want to achieve with the grant. The first step in landing federal funding through a grant is to ask yourself what you specifically want to accomplish with the grant money, what equipment your agency has that is substandard/non-existent in achieving those goals, and precisely what equipment is needed to successfully resolve the issue.

It is extremely important to be familiar with your requirements for the desired public safety program before outlining what you need for new equipment or to identify what kind of grant you should apply for.

Clearly stating the problem your department needs to overcome and the method you are proposing to deploy is the cornerstone of the grant-writing process and is frequently referred to as the Narrative Problem Statement (NPS). The NPS outlines recent issues, events, threat assessments and/or system vulnerabilities that demonstrate the need for project funding. An example of an effective NPS, in this case for a public safety radio system, looks like this:

“The purpose of this proposal is to enhance public safety radio coverage in numerous areas of the City of XYZ. Due to the geographic terrain and antiquated equipment, there are several dead spots in our jurisdiction.

These dead spots prevent officers from sending or receiving radio transmissions. If an officer were to need immediate assistance, his or her ability to reach out for help is greatly compromised.

Rapid population growth, increased calls for police and fire assistance and a lack of resources dictate that we seek alternate sources for new radio equipment that will enable seamless interoperable communications throughout our jurisdiction.”

You can increase your chance of securing a grant by partnering with other agencies or departments with similar needs, so identify how this equipment may help more than just your department. For instance, many grants that fund interoperability communications now require multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional collaboration.

Step 2: Grant Research

Law enforcement and public safety grants can be categorized in a variety of ways and can come from both the government and the private sector. Once you have identified exactly what you’d like to achieve with a grant and the equipment you’ll need to achieve that goal, you will want to head to the Web.

Try searching for key word terms like: general law enforcement grants, police communications grants, law enforcement equipment grants, police K9 grants and grants for police dogs, police equipment grants, police computer grants, police vehicle grants, law enforcement block grants and any other term that might fit your project.

Because a majority of the grants available will come from the federal government, you should search www.grants.gov first. This site allows visitors to search for grant opportunities by agency, category, eligibility, funding instrument type and sub-agency.

Step 3: Select the Team

The individual members of the team you select to help collect data and write the grant proposal should have different strengths. An ideally sized team will consist of four to five members and should include number crunchers, IT-savvy individuals (where appropriate), statisticians, stakeholders and creative thinkers. No matter what grant you’re applying for, a diverse group of team members will help ensure that all bases are covered and all interests of key constituents are considered.

Step 4: Timeline and Framework

Now that you have a well-defined NPS and a strong grant-writing team, you will need to turn your focus to determining who will be responsible for every aspect of the project, what the project will cost and how those costs will be split, and how your agency will measure success and the operational impact.

It is important to set deadlines for each of the above items to meet the grant-writing deadline. It is also important to set targets and timelines in your proposal to illustrate clear goals and objectives. The goals and objectives section is very important. This is your opportunity to list what you hope to achieve with the project. In the grant proposal process, goals are the ultimate outcomes desired during a long period and can be difficult to measure. Objectives are the criteria you will use to measure your methods in reaching your overall goals. Let’s use an example.

Goal 1: Purchase new radios and upgrade existing radios to obtain greater radio reception. Objective 1.1: Ensure the operational implementation for 40 mobile radios (6 months). Objective 1.2: Ensure the operational implementation of 40 public safety microphones (3 months). Objective 1.3: Ensure the operational implementation of three 800 MHz dispatch modules (12 months).

Goal 2: Purchase and install radio tower equipment for better service to all users in Counties X, Y and Z. Objective 2.1: Conduct surveys of towers to ensure best coverage for all service areas (3 months). Objective 2.2: Extend the height of an existing tower to give optimal range of radio coverage (9 months). Objective 2.3: Ensure the operational implementation of five repeaters (9 months).

Step 5: The Budget

Pay special attention to the budget section of the application because it receives a lot of scrutiny and review from the funding agency. Naturally, the budget should include line-by-line details of all the project’s costs, broken down by year. Also, be sure to include the funds you are requesting for the project, as well as any matching funds that your agency or the local or state government can provide.

Do not be shy about touting what you will be bringing to the table. The funding agency will want to see that you are making an effort to contribute to the system, rather than asking for funds to pay for the project outright. It may be helpful to list the funds your agency plans to contribute in a spreadsheet, if it’s allowed in the application. This demonstration of contributions could be viewed as an example of good planning and could help your cause.

Step 6: Cost/Benefit Analysis

In the budget section, it is important to be as detailed as possible and to line itemize as much as you can. The cost/benefit analysis section of any grant is equally as important. Your agency needs to clearly demonstrate why it cannot handle this project on its own. You can cite socioeconomic conditions that are creating difficulty in finding the funding internally.

Natural disasters, housing market slumps, high unemployment rate droughts and high levels of fixed income residents are all factors that can severely limit your ability to fund a large-scale project, so be sure to tell the funding agency about any factors that are already exhausting resources.

Step 7: The Long Haul

The grant proposal must document the activities for implementing, monitoring and adapting the new program or technology, as well as the project’s desired results. This section should reflect conversations among your agency, partners and vendors. You will also need to reference product requirements and design documents in this section to ensure that the funding agency has a clear view of the legwork performed and the solution that best fits your agency’s needs.

Another integral part of writing your agency’s application is to propose how it plans to fund the project in the future. As many public officials can attest, large projects require maintenance and other fixed costs over time. Having a source of long-term, continuous funding available is a critical component of the grant process.

When discussing future funding (also known as sustainability funding), always document additional potential funders who can help cover future costs. Finally, describe how the project will impact operations. It is important to emphasize how the grant money you are requesting will bolster critical infrastructure and help your agency perform its job efficiently and safely.

Lee Connor leads the Grant Funding Program Management Office in the Public Safety & Public Communications Business Unit in Harris Corporation’s RF Communications Division. She works with customers in developing grant strategies as they apply for federal grant programs.


Published in Law and Order, May 2010

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