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Six Steps to Funding Thermal Imagers

Written by Jeff Lord

The funding of any equipment for law enforcement is a challenge. Operating expense budgets simply cannot absorb major outlays for nontraditional capital equipment. Funding through extraordinary sources becomes the rule of the day. Those sources may be asset seizure funds, private benefactors or grant programs.

Grant programs often appear to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, i.e., they are easy to see, but seemingly impossible to capture. The insult added to injury is the gauntlet of mind-numbing paperwork you have to slog through in hopes of having any chance at receiving the funding or the equipment that you know you need.

For thermal imaging, specific challenges exist. While rapidly gaining attention and acceptance, the usefulness of thermal imaging is still a relatively undiscovered tool in the bigger box of policing tools. This lack of recognition of thermal imaging as a valuable asset makes the selling job more difficult. You want grantors to recognize that the funding for the thermal imager you are requesting is not only justifiable but also a priority compared to other requests.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The DHS-administrated Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP) has granted well over 1,000 imagers to law enforcement in the past two years, making thermal imaging the runaway No. 1 technology provided through that program. That same trend is continuing in the current CEDAP phase, and it is predicted to continue in future phases.

Clearly thermal imaging is getting more and more attention of both law enforcement and federal benefactors. Here are some practical steps to shift the odds in your favor when appealing for money for a thermal imager or the imager itself, via grant programs.

Thermal Imager Expert

You will be expected to understand what thermal imaging is, what it does, and most important, what it will do for you. Do your homework early. Research the supply chain. Determine what features and capabilities are relevant to your department and why. Develop a priority listing of cameras and capabilities that are best suited to your needs. Grantors will expect that you know what you want and why. Grant applications are judged on completeness, coherency and compelling narrative.

Thermal imaging product information is at the tip of your fingers on many thermal imager manufacturers’ Web sites. Register for the Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) Web site (www.rkb.mibt.com). This is the one official DHS-endorsed information site for products supported via federal grant programs. There is a wealth of thermal imaging information there, as well as current phase CEDAP information and application access.

Research Relevant Grant Programs

What exactly are the grant programs accessible to you? Depending upon your department and community size, CEDAP may be a good fit. But you cannot afford to ride a one-trick pony. Apply to as many programs as possible to improve your odds of being considered by one of them.

Invariably, what you will find is that most of the federal programs (other than CEDAP) are accessible to you in only an indirect fashion. Monies typically flow from the feds, through to the states, and from there down to regional and then local preparedness authorities. That will take us to the next step. First, bear in mind that having a good understanding and being able to speak capably as to what is available to your state will aid immensely in your efforts to work with and get the attention of local, regional and state purse-string holders.

Research these programs carefully. Determine which programs will actually consider your need for thermal imaging equipment and which grantors will actually allow funds disbursement for this type of technology. Because of their somewhat undiscovered value, literally seeing the category “thermal imaging” in a grant criteria is a rare event.

Typically, broader categories—still relevant to thermal imaging—are stated, such as “detection equipment” or “surveillance equipment,” or perhaps even references to the federally declared Standardized Equipment List (SEL) and Allowable Equipment List (AEL). These lists provide the official categories of equipment that DHS and others use as the basis for grant funding, tying back into the Responder Knowledge Base very nicely. You can go there, review the current SEL and AEL and “shop” products by listed SEL/AEL categories. This will cut your research effort immensely.

Build the Relationships

No man is an island, and no police officer is a grant acquirer all by himself. Most grant programs are built on a structure of interacting federal, state and local authorities, and virtually all (other than CEDAP and a few others) programs are driven through that structure hierarchy. That means your department cannot apply directly for many of these programs. Instead, you must coordinate and submit your request and otherwise apply for these programs through local and regional preparedness authorities who will ultimately submit your request to state-level agencies.

But where to start? The federal government has designated, and every state has appointed a central authority known as the State Administrating Agency (SAA). This entity is most often the only authorized and accepted entity for application of federal grant funds. Additionally, your state’s SAA office will be able to advise you as to what the statewide priorities are, how to apply, and with whom and how to coordinate your requests at the regional and local levels. SAA contact information and summary data on monies available through your state can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/odp/contact_state.htm.

Statement of Need

Virtually every grant application asks, basically, a) what are the problems or challenges you are trying to mitigate, b) how do you intend to resolve those challenges, and c) how will you employ the equipment or the funds for the equipment to make that happen. In the case of thermal imaging, you have an advantage in that the utility of this technology is broad and deep.

As you develop your statement of need, think always in terms of how the technology gives officers the ability to see what might otherwise not be seen, while maintaining stealth and safety for the operator. Threat detection is a very strong application, whether that threat is a human incursion, a HazMat spill or other security breach. The technology is insensitive to light, sensitive to heat and able to “translate” heat energy into a visible image, making thermal imagers a tool of choice for agencies to expose what might otherwise escape undetected.

That means thermal imagers are powerful tools for routine patrol, targeted surveillance operations, tactical events, search and rescue, HazMat investigation, and so on. Being able to articulate what thermal imaging will do is not enough. You have to be able to declare what it will do for you and why. That answer lies in understanding the critical issues, problems or vulnerabilities in your community.

What are the major crime statistics? What significant infrastructure components might be terrorist soft targets such as bridges, dams, chemical plants, refineries, utility sites, and so forth? How will the thermal imager be deployed in the event of an attack or in a crime scenario? Will other agencies be involved? How will your thermal imager be engaged in an interoperability exercise?

Ask for guidance and insight by talking with the thermal imager manufacturers you have selected to be on your “short list.” Bullard, for example, provides information in a dedicated grant information section of the law enforcement thermal imager Web pages, including cut-and-paste narrative for justification and application of thermal imaging as a critical law enforcement tool. Put all of this information together in logical order so that as the grant application or information request from your local or regional coordinator comes across your desk, you will be ready to respond.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

It may seem like you are in uncharted waters, but others before you have applied for thermal imaging funding or the equipment itself and succeeded! Most will be happy to share their success stories and offer some insight as to how they applied, what narrative techniques they used, and what were other keys to their success.

A current list of CEDAP recipients can be found on the Responder Knowledge Base Web site. Contact these folks. Use the information they volunteer. Perhaps they might even critique your application before you submit it! In any event, take full advantage of what thermal imager recipients might provide to increase your odds of success.

Grant funding for thermal imagers or outright thermal imager equipment grants are attainable for law enforcement! The Department of Homeland Security CEDAP grant program has made thermal imaging very accessible. Do your homework. Understand what thermal imaging is all about and how it will help your department. Determine what equipment best suits your needs and what features and utilities best respond to your challenges.

It is important to learn your state’s grant organization structure. Contact those in charge. Work with them to develop a statement about your needs as a component of their overall plan. Present your application in full, on time, and with clear, easily understood narratives. Do not stop at just one application. Do as many as are relevant to you and your department, and as many as you have time to coordinate.

Jeff Lord leads the new business development program for Bullard in the federal government and military markets and also advises law enforcement agencies on grant-based funding alternatives. He can be reached at Jeff_Lord@bullard.com.


Published in Law and Order, Oct 2006

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