How to fund FirstNet implementation in your agency

Numerous federal, state and private grants may be able to support all or part of your FirstNet implementation project


With all 50 states and U.S. territories opting-in to FirstNet access, first responders are looking at ways they can utilize this mission-critical communication network within their agencies. Police, fire, EMS, hospitals and other public safety agencies are beginning to see the benefits of this communication resource during large crowd gatherings, natural disasters or other major events in their communities.

Finding funding to cover network access and acquire smart phones, SIM cards, tablets, software applications or other equipment may require a mix of your department’s own funding, as well as grants and loans. Numerous federal, state and private grants may be able to support all or part of your FirstNet implementation project. Here are some to consider.

FEMA grants

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding may be the largest source of federal grants available to cover FirstNet implementation costs. (Photo/FirstNet)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding may be the largest source of federal grants available to cover FirstNet implementation costs. (Photo/FirstNet)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding may be the largest source of federal grants available to cover FirstNet implementation costs. FEMA offers several grant programs that can support state, local, tribal and territorial emergency communication projects. These include:

1. Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPG)

The EMPG assists state, local, tribal and territories in preparing for all hazards. State Administering Agencies (SAAs) or State Emergency Management Agencies apply directly to FEMA but must sub-award a portion of the funding to other state and local agencies.

2. Homeland Security Grants (HSGP)

The HSGP consists of three grant programs:

Each state and territory receives an allocation of SHSP funds. However, UASI funds are restricted to 32 eligible urban areas based on risk. OPSG funds are awarded to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies located along our nation’s borders.

Note that any communications projects must align with the Statewide Communication Interoperability Plan (SCIP) and involve coordination and consultation with the Statewide Interoperability Governing Body (SIGB) or Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC). Reach out to your SAA to discuss your project.

3. Port Security Grant Program (PSGP)

The PSGP provides grants to port authorities, facility operators, and State and local agencies required to provide security services to implement Area Maritime Transportation Security Plans and facility security plans. If your first responder agency falls within this mission, these funds could support some of your FirstNet resource needs.

4. Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP)

These funds support transportation infrastructure security. Those eligible include publicly owned operators of public transportation. Agencies such as transit police, or first responders who work with these transit agencies may benefit from using a portion of these dollars to fund the communication equipment and software required for FirstNet access.

5. Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program (THSGP)

Grants through the THSGP support numerous activities enabling tribes to strengthen their capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from potential terrorist attacks and other hazards.

6. Assistance to Firefighters (AFG)

These federal grant dollars meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and non-affiliated emergency medical service organizations. Communication equipment among first responders to foster interoperability during a disaster, fire and related hazards could be an eligible expense under this program.

Department of Justice grants

The U.S. Department of Justice offers millions of dollars each year in grant funding to support law enforcement, emergency first responders and their community partners. Many of these grants could support the equipment, software and personnel needs required to implement FirstNet.

The Department of Justice Program Plan is a great resource for finding all of the grants offered each fiscal year. Here are a few to consider for your FirstNet Projects:

1. Justice Assistance Funding (JAG)

Offered through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), these funds support projects from all sectors of the criminal justice system. Formula funding comes to State Administering Agencies who must sub-award a large portion of this funding to other state and local agencies. Some communities also receive local JAG funding directly from DOJ based on their population and Part 1 crime statistics. JAG funds can be used to cover a host of criminal justice needs including providing additional personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, training, technical assistance and information systems.

2. COPS grants

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office administers grants that may assist law enforcement and non-law enforcement agencies to develop, enhance or expand their FirstNet projects. The Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) program, and the School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP) are two options to consider among the suite of COPS grants offered in this fiscal year. The February 25 application deadline for the CTAS grant is fast approaching. The SVVP should be opening later this year.

3. Office of Justice Programs competitive grants

Several other competitive grant opportunities will be made available this federal fiscal year that law enforcement and first responder partners may want to consider for their FirstNet projects. These include:

Continue to follow the DOJ program plan and Office of Justice Program current opportunities pages for updates on when these grants will become available.

Highway traffic safety

Federal dollars are also passed down to states through the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The Section 402 State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program has numerous focus areas, including enhancing emergency services. States typically offer grants to local law enforcement agencies through a competitive application process.

Hospital preparedness funding

Real-time communication and data sharing between hospitals and first responders is critical in saving lives. Two programs offered through the US Department of Health and Human Services are focused on this mission. The Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Cooperative Agreement and the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) allow for funding to be used for interoperable communications equipment, systems, training and exercises among other things.

Rural development grants

If your agency is located in a rural area, you may qualify for one of several USDA grants and loans that can be used for communication project.

The Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program gives priority to healthcare, education and public safety projects and will fund communication infrastructure and equipment.

The Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans program can support 911 improvements and public safety broadband networks.

The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (DLT) funds telecommunications-enabled information, audio and video equipment, and related advanced technologies for educational and medical applications. Communications equipment between medical facilities and first responder vehicles can be supported under this program.

State-administered grant funding

Nearly every state and territory received funding under the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) for planning and deployment of FirstNet. Thus far, the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) and SLIGP 2.0 round of grants have been used largely for planning and adoption of the FirstNet broadband network. Reach out to your state’s FirstNet Single Point of Contact (SPOC) to discuss your project needs. They may be able to identify grant opportunities available within your state to cover your implementation costs.

Corporate and private foundation funding

Most large corporations across the U.S. have established foundations or giving programs providing grants or donations based on their established priorities. Often, the priority is supporting the community where they are located.

Big box stores such as Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club offer grants to support public safety and community wellbeing. Firehouse Subs offers grants for first responder equipment across the country. National freight railroad companies such as CSX, Union Pacific and BNSF administer grants with a focus on keeping the communities safe where their lines are operating.

Many private foundations across the country are eager to support first responder agencies with grant funding to cover your FirstNet project needs. The Foundation Center and GrantFinder are great resource tools for researching which foundation covers your geographic area.

Final advice

Make sure you read and understand the grant application guidelines before you budget for items that may not be allowable. The construction of communication towers is not allowable under some of these grants. Many grants will only allow you to cover the cost of network user fees or monthly service plans during the grant award period; some may not allow them at all.

As always, the team at PoliceGrantsHelp is ready to assist. Our grant assistance program includes a number of options for departments seeking assistance in securing grant funding to support the work you do for our communities every day.

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