Homeland Security Grants and Specialty Teams

Chesapeake VA Fire Department Tower Ladder

By Mandy George

There are well known Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants such as the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters Grants programs that benefit fire departments on a regular basis. These grants ensure funding for equipment, personnel, and programs for many types and sizes of departments. They are the “go-to grants” and for good reason: a department can purchase approved items from the Authorized Equipment List (AEL) with funds from these grants. However, a department may have specialty programs with grants that could benefit not only the program itself, but the whole department and even the region. An example of this alignment is with a Regional Incident Management Team  (IMT), a Local Fire Department, and a grant such as the FEMA Homeland Security Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) program.

An IMT is a type of specialty team that is often exclusively supported by grant funds. These teams primarily operate on the regional level and aid organizations when large-scale incidents overwhelm the resources of a locality. Whereas some types of teams deploy primarily to assist with various types of manpower, IMTs deploy to assist with the incident command and the logistical management of the incident itself.  For example, after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 31, 2019, the Hampton Roads Incident Management Team (HRIMT) deployed to assist Virginia Beach Emergency Managers with logistical and command support for the around-the-clock management of complex tragedy. They also deployed to Richmond, Virginia, due to civil unrest in 2020 and 2021 to support incident command.

The support for a violent and complex incident is a good example of how the scope of these organizations is to give support for “all-hazards” emergencies. This often translates into deployment for support of incident command during floods, hurricanes, and other weather events. However, it is important to note that these teams are also created to support threats due to terrorism, domestic violent extremism, and civil unrest. These are the hazards that need to be highlighted when applying for certain types of FEMA grants.

The IMT satisfies the mission of the safety and security lifeline in FEMA. However, it is this specific nexus between the hazard of terrorism, the function of the regional IMT, and the clear application of each part of the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to terrorism that allows for a successful UASI grant program in a specialty team. This month, I sat down with William “Skip” Hibner, a retired Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department battalion chief and the program manager for the Hampton Roads Incident Management Team (HRIMT), a Type III All-Hazards IMT, to learn the tricks of the trade in building a successful grant application for a specialty team.  He had five suggestions to those just starting out or those having challenges securing the funds they need:

1. You must follow the NOFO, or don’t even bother submitting the grant.

The NOFO is the main guidance document that sets out who can apply for the grant, when, and what documents and information need to be included. The NOFO for the UASI grant, which is part of the Homeland Security Grants Program, is more than 54 pages long. Read carefully and get assistance from more experienced grant writers if necessary.

2. Spelling and grammar are not as important as following directions and putting the correct content into the grant application.

It is preferable that the grant application be free of mistakes and grammatically sound. However, on account of limits on word or character counts, it may be necessary to use sentence fragments or abbreviations. Be sure the content is relevant, legible, and focused. Content can trump style in this instance.

3. Use critical thinking to see the big picture.

UASI grants must focus on security and terrorism. If your department or team needs a high-water truck for regional use during floods, it is important to show how that apparatus can be used in a terrorist event to be able to secure such an apparatus with UASI funds. If this truck will be used for water crossings if bridges are compromised due to terrorist activity, then it will potentially meet the requirements of the grant because the truck meets both a safety need and the regional use criteria. If the grant just says the high-water truck will be used during floods, the funding will likely be denied because that statement does not connect terrorism or regional use of the vehicle.

This type of big-picture thinking can be hard to come by and is most often seen in people who have had experience in multiple different types of positions within a department or who have worked with a variety of groups within a city. It is necessary to know how the big picture works in order to be able to tie all of the elements together.

4. Use guidance documents to support each of the grant’s core capabilities and tasks.

FEMA’s 2018-2020 Strategic Plan and the Hampton Roads Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) have specific information that can support the grant’s core capabilities both federally and regionally. You can use these documents to ensure your writing continues to create the nexus to terrorism and security necessary to secure approval and funding.

5. Know your mission as an organization and as a specialty team. If you don’t know your mission, it’s hard to write a grant for it.

It may seem basic, but without a mission, the objectives for your grant and the connections to the “big picture” will be difficult or impossible to make. If your organization or specialty team does not have a mission, take the time to develop one.

Grant funding for regional and specialty teams is available and the funds provided can assist your local department with daily operational equipment as well as items that benefit the community in times of threat. Securing those funds requires following directions, inserting correct content, big-picture thinking, using supporting documentation, and knowing your mission as an organization. In the end, if you are new to these types of grants, get some assistance from those who are more experienced even if you have to reach out to federal or state contacts. There are always people willing to lend a helping hand!

Mandy George

Mandy George is a lieutenant in the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department. She is a training officer who works with a strong team to facilitate the training needs of a 500-member department of sworn and civilian personnel. She has a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management, a master’s degree in professional writing, and an associate’s degree in emergency medical services. She is also a Nationally Registered Paramedic (NRP).


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