The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the release of new funding opportunities for Fiscal Year 2021 for regional catastrophic preparedness. This grant program will provide $12 million to eligible states and local governments to close capability gaps related to catastrophic incidents, including pandemic preparedness.
“What often suffers in public funding budgets is money for preparedness,” explained Tony Bardo, assistant vice president for Government Solutions at Hughes. “We’ve heard from agencies over the years, ‘We don’t have money for preparedness. We can only react to disasters and try to get emergency funds.’ Here’s an opportunity for grant money to support preparedness efforts, at the discretion of these governments to say how they’ll use the money in their regions.”
As Mr. Bardo pointed out, while the conversation about preparedness typically focuses on improving capacity for food, water, and shelter, there is also an essential need for teams to be able communicate during coordination and response efforts as well as for communities to be able to connect.
“People understand how communications can be compromised during hazardous situations,” he said. “But we can also look at what happened during Covid, when all of a sudden people stayed home. Students weren’t at school using their education networks; employees were forced to telework. The Internet was turned upside down, causing usage congestion and slow performance. While not everyone got sick, everyone was directly affected by how they had to work or function differently day-to-day.”
Local governments must therefore consider how they want their networks to not only support first responders, but also their communities during any manner of emergency. For example, they should decide what they need to be prepared for and how they want to react; and assess the core capabilities and lifelines they need in times of crisis. Some questions to ask include: Do they have alternate path capabilities to ensure connectivity in case of disruption? Do they have technologies to mitigate congestion and optimize performance? Do they want to set up Wi-fi Hotspots in local areas, such as library, school or post office parking lots so that community members can get connected?
“Communications are the connective tissue for all aspects of emergency preparedness, whether it’s a weather event or a pandemic. This is an important chance for governments to start thinking about preparedness in ways they haven’t been able to before because of lack of money. FEMA’s grant program can bolster how they can now look at their efforts,” he said.
According to FEMA, the application period is open until 5 p.m. ET on July 16, 2021. Submissions must be made through Grants.gov. The funding notice is available on Grants.gov (Assistance Listings Number 97.111), as well as on the FEMA website at https://www.fema.gov/grants.
For five easy-to-remember steps on preparing for disaster response, check out our insight.