Top Tips for Securing FEMA Grant Monies

The current economic environment and its corresponding budget pressures have left many EMS agencies struggling to secure funds to replace and/or add equipment, provide training, etc. Given increasing concerns for personnel safety and demand for services, the task becomes even more complex.

While many departments rely on multiple sources of revenue, taxes, including property, sales, income, etc., provide the bulk of the funding. But many agencies find it difficult, if not impossible, to increase taxes to a level necessary to cover costs.

Grants are one way departments can fill in the gaps. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is fiscally responsible for about 17,000 open grants and is programmatically responsible for more than two-thirds of those. In 2009, FEMA awarded and provided oversight for more than $10.6 billion in grants through approximately 50 programs to state, territorial and local communities, and critical infrastructure systems.

Elizabeth Harman, assistant administrator, FEMA Grants Program Directorate, offers the following advice when applying for FEMA grants:

EMSResponder: What FEMA grant opportunities are available specifically for the public safety community?

Harman: The entire suite of FEMA preparedness grant programs support the public safety community. The Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) is the largest program and provides funds to build capabilities at the state and local levels and to implement the goals and objectives included in state homeland security strategies and initiatives in their State Preparedness Report.

Other programs such as the Interoperable Emergency Communications Program (IECGP), Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), and the Buffer Zone Protection Program (BZPP), seek to build additional capabilities to support state and local first responders. The entire suite of grant programs can be found by visiting

The Grant Programs Directorate (GPD) maintains a suite of grant programs which provide direct financial assistance to fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations to enhance their capabilities with respect to fire and related hazards, as well as overall preparedness.

Since most GPD grants are awarded to the State Administrative Agencies (SAA), which are appointed by the governors, it is critical for emergency management agencies to forge relationships with their SAA to ensure they have a seat at the table when funding allocation decisions are made. The SAA helps to ensure coordination between Federal and State and local preparedness partners. Collaboration between partners ensures compliance in supporting the integration of local emergency management initiatives.

EMSResponder: What are some of the biggest mistakes applicants make?

Harman: The most important action any applicant can take is to read the grant guidance thoroughly. FEMA receives thousands of applications on an annual basis. Many of these applications are reviewed by a peer review panel. It's essential that applicants completely understand the application process and the associated parameters of each individual program. FEMA established a dedicated helpline to assist applicants during the application process. In addition, FEMA performs periodic regional stakeholder outreach sessions with potential applicants.

The top 5 mistakes applicants make:

  • Applicant's request does not match program priorities.
  • Proposed project does not show significant improvement to current operations.
  • Applicant cannot demonstrate the ability to sustain the project with their own resources in the long-term.
  • Applicant does not provide adequate details about how the community's needs were identified.
  • Budget request is too vague (i.e, a line item for $100K that says "services"). Be as specific as possible in budget requests.

EMSResponder: Can you share some top tips for successful grant applications?

Harman: Again, the most important tip is to read and understand the grant guidance and application process. FEMA is more than willing to assist applicants during this process. In addition, FEMA is looking for applications that can build preparedness capabilities and applicants that can demonstrate the ability to sustain these programs over the long-term. Applications that tie into a long-term strategic plan are also looked at favorably.

The top 5 tips for a successful application:

  • Read the application thoroughly.
  • If you need assistance, call the awarding agency prior to submitting the application.
  • Closely follow the parameters outlined in the guidance when completing the application. Do not exceed maximum character or page limits.
  • Do not use acronyms. Assume that the person reviewing your application has not heard of your organization.
  • Ensure there is a plan in place (strategy, Standard Operating Procedures, etc.) from which this application/request is being derived.

EMSResponder: What should agencies be aware of in terms of any compliance with grant requirements after they receive the monies?

Harman: Compliance with grant requirements is of the utmost importance. All grant requirements are listed in the grant guidelines and application kit, so grantees should make themselves familiar with those documents. FEMA is here to help grantees understand the rules and regulations if assistance is needed. In addition, FEMA monitoring visits are a useful tool for both the awarding agency and the grantee to understand the current status of their compliance.

The top 5 compliance mistakes grantees make:

  • Starting work on the project before receiving approval from the awarding agency.
  • Submitting progress reports late.
  • Supplanting state/local budgets with federal funding.
  • Not completing the project in accordance with the grant rules and regulations.
  • Co-mingling of grant funding. Grantees must ensure that each grant that they received is accounted for separately and documented carefully.