Fusion centers—sites where huge amounts of data from a variety of public and private-sector sources are aggregated for use by a broad range of federal, state and local agencies—are typically funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DoJ).
Each uses its major grant program, the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) and the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), respectively.
But with 2011 reductions in funding for the two largest component programs of HSGP, the State HomelandSecurity Program (SHSP) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), and no clear indication how funding is going to continue to flow in the future, many nascent data centers have found themselves slowing down development. Moreover, some planned fusion centers have been put on hold indefinitely.
It’s easy enough to attribute this shift to the vagaries of federal funding, exacerbated by today’s climate of cutbacks and general constraint. But with or without easy access to federal dollars, fusion centers have the potential to empower state and local terrorism preparedness efforts, along with a broad range of day-to-day law enforcement, court and disaster management functions.
Fortunately, as with interoperable communications and other capital-intensive security projects that connect a wide range of organizations, the fusion center effort is collaborative by its very nature. As such, it can be funded collectively by the programs that contribute and use its data.
This process begins with engaging the likely early users of the system and developing a spoke-and-wheel model for funding. The broadly supportive and less restrictive programs are considered the hub, supporting the project infrastructure and connectivity costs not easily assigned to individual agency participants. At the same time, the various agencies and divisions that will be connecting to the fusion center can each seek funds from sources more closely attuned to their need for the equipment, training and personnel required to connect and the impact that connection may have on their effectiveness and capability.
The Core Infrastructure—The Hub
Often the core infrastructure is the most difficult to fund, even though it supports all the other functions of the fusion center. That’s because, without an application to demonstrate the purpose of all that technology, it is difficult for funders to evaluate the impact such an expensive endeavor will have on preparedness.
Fortunately, several programs have been designed to be flexible enough to respond to locally developed priorities, as long as they support an established definition of preparedness and justice. These programs have broad allowable uses and can provide significant awards, particularly for regional projects.
The most common of these programs are the SHSP, UASI and JAG, but other competitive programs, like the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and the Emergency Operations Center Grants—both administered by DHS—can support the infrastructure as well as specific applications in the fusion center.
Specific Applications—The Spokes
Specific functions of a fusion center are best supported by individual grants that complement the core infrastructure funders and can enable fusion center operations to demonstrate their value by providing a specific application as an example of the powerful potential of information sharing and technology. Managers of gang suppression programs, for example, have a clearer understanding of local needs relative to gang violence than a Justice or DHS generalist might. Local law enforcement could evaluate the potential application of the technology to address a specific problem or improve an agency’s capability in that narrowly defined area.
A range of special grant programs that can support connection to a fusion center for specific applications can be found from DHS and DoJ to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. They include Project Safe Neighborhoods, Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Orders of Protection, and COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Secure our Schools, to name a few.
In the end, it may be necessary to leverage more than just grant funding to bring the vision of a fusion center into reality, and creative financing can certainly help get the project up and running sooner. But grants can play a major role in supporting the startup and expansion of a fusion center. That said, a successful effort will require patience, perseverance and a willingness to engage several partners in pursuit of the many relevant opportunities that become available throughout the year.
Michael Paddock is CEO of Grants Office LLC. He can be reached at MPaddock@grantsoffice.com.