Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A comment on federal grant funding for communications equipment

There seems to be some confusion concerning the necessity for procuring P25 compatible equipment when using federal grant money, and in particular, AFG funding applicable to the 2009 guidelines.

Those who attended the FEMA sponsored meetings clearly recall guidance indicating that the purchase of communications equipment would only be approved for the purchase of P25 equipment (pagers excluded).

In the 2009 grant application instructions, numerous references are made to the requirement that all communications equipment purchases must be in compliance with applicable State interoperability communications plans. We can't speak for all States, but we can share some information that is applicable in the State of Alabama and possibly elsewhere as well.

For purposes of definition, P25 is an operating standard that is capable of operating on both 25 and 12.5 kHz channel spacing in both an analog AND digital mode - not just any digital mode, but SPECIFICALLY P25 - Not MotoTRBO, NXDN or any other digital operating standard - JUST P25, period! If you want a definition of P25, we invite you to visit http://midlandradio.com/Products/About-P25. Additional information on the comparative between the three most popular digital radio systems is available at www.info4u.us/Ready4P25.pdf.

At the Federal level, all agencies are required to purchase P25 communications equipment only for purposes of maintaining interoperability between agencies as defined by SAFECOM. By extension, any federal funds spent on the purchase of communications equipment at the State, County, or Municipal level would be subject to the same requirement. This is reflected in the 2009 FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant program. For those who require additional clarification on this subject, we suggest that you (a) review the applicable grant application forms or (b) contact your FEMA representative.

At the State level each State Homeland Security office is required to prepare a Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP) based on Federal standard requirements. Alabama's plan is available at www.dhs.alabama.gov/pdf/Alabama_SCIP_Plan_Final.pdf. It is a fairly large document, but the bottom line is that it clearly states that P25 is the only acceptable operating standard. The following is an excerpt from page 155. "Invoke Project 25 (P25) standards to all relevant statewide and local agencies procurement and use of communications equipment". That seems pretty clear!

Alabama's SCIP was prepared in 2007. This would appear to indicate that any communications equipment purchased after that time would be P25 capable only. In the 2009 Assistance to Firefighters Grant application, the requirement for purchasing only equipment in compliance with the applicable State plan is clearly stated, and in fact, Alabama DHS has the responsibility to review all AFG applications for compliance with the State SCIP. It would appear that this policy would also apply to the purchase of enforcement communications equipment purchased with federal funds.

So, what's the point? Simply this. If both Federal and State standards require funding only for P25 equipment and you purchase equipment that is not P25 compatible, you are potentially at risk of losing your grant funds even though they have been awarded and spent. Our job is not that of a watchdog or whistle blower. Our job is to do our best to give you the facts necessary to make the right decision in purchasing communications equipment when using federal grant funds. We offer four different P25 offerings on the Alabama State Contract from ICOM, Midland, Motorola, and Relm/BK.

If you are considering purchasing communications equipment with federal grant funds, we invite you to call on us. To help you get started, we have prepared generic P25 specifications on repeaters, mobiles, and portables that can assist you in making sure that you get compliant P25 equipment when you go to bid. (See www.info4u.us/P25BidSpecs.pdf). We hope you will include us as a potential vendor. Our vendor information is as follows - Falcon Direct - #36 - 20th Avenue NW - Birmingham, AL 35215.

Give us a chance at winning your business. Our job is taking care of YOU!