Grant funding is a game changer for many hazmat teams, but nobody ever won a game from the bleachers — you have to take the field.
Grant money is an excellent way to get additional funding for equipment, training and services that lay outside your department’s budget. You know meeting those unfunded needs will greatly enhance your department’s hazmat response capabilities. Yet, securing grant funding can be both intimidating and frustrating.
As with any large problem, breaking it into smaller, manageable pieces and paying attention to detail will go a long way toward a positive outcome.
First off, there is no magic formula or shortcut to grant funding. It takes hard work, planning and additional time for the unexpected — just like any major undertaking. A successful grant application will go through multiple drafts and reviews before submission so starting early is key. And frankly, there’s a bit of luck involved and limited grant resources. Sometimes the most worthy causes laid out in the best grant applications go unfunded. Be persistent with guarded optimism.
Here are nine tips to help you tip the scales in your favor.
1. Research the different grants.
There are hundreds of federal, state and private grant opportunities to consider. Many organizations focus on the large Federal Emergency Management Agency opportunities such as the Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG), Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), but there are hundreds of smaller grant opportunities and regional ones your department can benefit from. Don’t pass them over; the competition for smaller grants will be less than it is for AFG or SAFER.
Remember, not all grants are created equal. Treat each as a unique opportunity. That means not using the same boilerplate application for every grant.
2. Get into the weeds
Most grants have a Notice of Funding Opportunity. This spells out the nitty-gritty of the grant. They are typically not gripping, page-turner prose, but you need to read it carefully. This is where all the details about what and who will be funded and how to apply are spelled out. Missing key requirements or applying for things that aren’t high priorities of the funder will sink your application.
3. When hire a grant writer?
Writing grants is hard work and needs planning, preparation and attention to detail. Although challenging, you can achieve success with dedication and motivation; doing it in house will save your department thousands of dollars. Professional grant writers typically do not guarantee success and will likely charge you whether your application is successful or not. However, they do have deeper insights into the grant writing process and have a track record to fall back on.
If you hire a grant writer, ask about their past success. Ask for both raw win-loss numbers and dollars funded. It’s also important that the grant writer understands fire and emergency services. The specific nuances of, say, K-12 education grant funding will be much different from those in the emergency services. And keep your eyes open for early-bird price discounts. Grant writers will work for less during their slow times. This can save you money and force you to get a jump on the process.
4. Look for free assistance
If you plan to write your own application, form a small team to break up the data gathering tasks. Look for free or low-cost grant workshops. In the Covid-19 era, you’ll find many of these were done online and archived. FEMA is a great starting point, as are national and state fire service trade associations. There are full-length grant writing courses, but those can cost as much as $500. This makes sense if the course is good and someone on the department will be writing multiple grants over the next few years.
Reach out to the organization that is offering the grant; they often have people who can clear up confusion over the grant requirements. FEMA also dispatches its grant experts to trade shows to field specific questions, now that trade shows are starting back up. While manufacturers and distributors are not allowed to write grants for their products, they often have on-staff grant experts who can lend you advice.
5. Do a deep-dive needs assessment
You will need facts and figures about your hazmat team or department, lots and lots of facts and figures. You need to prove your case to the review committee. Gather accurate data about your existing threats, existing resources and a realistic projection of future threats if the grant goes unfunded. Expect to get into data regarding the budget, census, staffing, equipment, area of response demographics, heavy industry, transportation thoroughfares, tourism, and anything unique to your area. For example, a large university campus or major tourist attraction will alter the seasonal population that could be impacted by a railroad hazmat incident.
6. Evidence the case
In your application narratives, you can use some emotional appeal. The committee members are human and will react as such. However, data is king. The committee likely will have a scoring system that assigns each application point values. Provide them the hard and indisputable facts they need to give your application a higher score.
The grant application narratives are subjective; there’s no way around that. You are trying to convince them to fund your vision over all other competing visions. But the more objective the narrative, the less it will come off as a “sell job” and the more it will be seen as an accurate assessment of need. More data equals more objectivity.
Here are some examples with fictitious numbers of how to incorporate data into the narratives:
- HazSim would save the department $8,500 per year on our three major annual exercises, by not having to provide live chemical simulants.
- In 2020 this department dealt with 87 chemical incidents where air monitoring was essential, and it is necessary to ensure our teams are provided with the most realistic training possible.
- This department spent $12,000 on outside consultant training and external courses last year. Purchase of the HazSim Pro 2.0 SYS 2002 would allow us to conduct training at the firehouses. This represents a substantial cost savings of no less than $10,000 per year and $118,000 over the expected life of the training platform.
7. Write succinctly, clearly and direct
The application will have narrative sections. Here, you must precisely detail the specific project scope in a way that can be easily digested by the reader. Keep it free of jargon and assume the review committee knows nothing of your situation. One way to test for this is have someone you trust who doesn’t work in the emergency services read it; have them identify areas they didn’t understand, and rewrite those for clarity. Keep your writing simple and on point. Short, direct sentences are best. And definitely have a proofreader. Even professional authors often fail to see mistakes in their own work. That second set of eyes is invaluable.
The review committee must see the key points of your proposal quickly. For example, here are some key points for hazmat training equipment.
- Dynamic training that incorporates multiple different hazardous materials is easy with a computer-based simulator like the HazSim Pro 2.0.
- The system offers multiple gases, CWAs, radiation, all in one system and can replicate the readings of our live detection equipment in use by the department.
- The HazSim system offers unlimited scenarios that can be carried out in virtually any setting, indoors or down range, for any size class — and it’s scalable.
- Environmental factors make chemical simulants extremely difficult to dispense and control. Trainers also find it difficult to repeat the scenario with the same exact readings for each student or class every time. Simulators provide this consistency so benchmarks can be set and therefore student understanding can be measured.
- Many chemical simulants contain highly carcinogenic ingredients. Many are not easily biodegradable. So their repeated use in specific areas can lead to a toxic build up over time — potentially becoming a major hazard to both humans and the environment. Additionally, having to decontaminate all the training equipment costs time and money. HazSim training can safely be set up anywhere, including public buildings and areas with civilians.
- Computer-based simulated training devices offer a cost-effective and practical solution that doesn’t require extensive ongoing maintenance, strict compliance with regulations and additional approvals for use, or clean-up between exercises.
8. Invite friends
Many grants offer a regional application option. Here, several departments or teams can apply for one grant where the equipment or training will be used to benefit all participating agencies. This is a much more difficult application because you will have to identify the lead agency and gather data for all the participating agencies. However, the benefit is you can make the case that the grant money is going further through an economy of scale — that the money is having a greater impact than it would if it were going to one department or team. Most review committee members want to know the money will do the most good, and regional grants are a compelling argument to that end.
9. Consider what happens next
Once the application is filed, there are two possibilities — you will get funded or you won’t. Either way, there are next steps. If you are funded, congratulations. But, it doesn’t end there. Most grants have administration and reporting requirements, and failure to meet those could jeopardize existing or future funding. You will need a point person to make sure all the post-award rules are followed.
If you weren’t funded, you need to regroup. Again, many great programs go unfunded. If yours isn’t funded, take another run at it. There’s a very good chance the need will still be there and the funding won’t when the grant opens again. Examine your losing application with a critical eye and discern where improvements can be made. Be determined, be persistent, be undeterred.
There are a great many benefits that hazmat teams can reap from grant funding. Whether your grant-funded need addresses a low-frequency, high-impact event or helps cover the bread-and-butter calls, your team and your community will be grateful for the added capabilities.
Looking for information on how to use these grant programs to upgrade your training program?