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To Acquire Safety Funding, Schools Need to Go on the Offense

School administrators are being inundated with offers of the latest technology to help keep their schools safe. A panel of experts discussed the first steps to acquiring grants and using them for the right purpose.

CCTV camera in a school library
Adobe Stock/titikul_b
Schools and school districts are under pressure to do what they can to make their facilities safe. But sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start and where to find the money to invest in the safety features that best match the situation.

That was the topic of a webinar hosted by ZeroNow, an alliance formed to increase the pace of technology innovation to make schools safer.

School administrators aren’t inherently adept at the process of locating and applying for grants to pay for whatever technological safety feature they have deemed necessary for their school or district, and it’s not always clear where to find the money.

When you look past the low-hanging fruit, such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), there are many other agencies and avenues for funding for schools. FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services are all options, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have grants available for rural schools and districts to improve safety.

“Sometimes the federal government just seems so large and overwhelming,” said Lynette Chambliss, a grant program specialist who oversees the School Violence Prevention Program for DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services. “DOJ has a funding department, the Department of Education has funding, Homeland Security has funding.”

To find those agencies that may have grants that would be applicable to school safety, the panelists advised subscribing to email mailing lists.

“ is your absolute starting point,” said Christine E.B. Howard, a consultant who helps clients apply for grant funding. “On the surface, if it doesn’t look like it’s a fit, don’t completely rule it out. There is a whole subdivision within DoD with a whole education line. There may be funding opportunities that an agency offers to fill a gap or they recognize there’s a need.”

The local community is also invested in having safe schools, and nonprofit organizations and businesses may be able to offer some grant money, said Danielle Myers, general manager at Status Solutions, a company that offers situational awareness services.

“When you think about it, all of our schools are communities and those communities have stakeholders,” Myers said. “Instead of looking at funding through silos, what if we looked at this holistically and got all those groups together to support the teachers and students and staff?”

As far as strategy, it’s important to first ensure that you are eligible for a specific grant before wasting a lot of time on applying. If not eligible, perhaps partner with an entity that is eligible and share the funding.

Applying for grants is a “long game” and doing so the night before a deadline is a good way to lose out. “There is an immense amount of strategic planning and collecting data and pulling the community together,” Howard said.

But even before searching for a grant, some schools are overwhelmed by vendors selling their technology and aren’t sure how to proceed and what they actually need.

“It’s very typical. We talk to a lot of schools and my biggest advice is to get on offense and stop playing defense,” Myers said in an interview with Emergency Management. “There are a lot of people trying to sell things to schools and they get inundated with, ‘Okay, maybe I should check out this or that.’”

Myers said it’s important to convene a team that will meet regularly to discuss the needs of the school or district before applying for money.

“In talking about that grassroots approach, starting with the right people around the table, a team that meets regularly and discusses the challenges the school faces, typically teachers, a parent, a school resource officer, a school superintendent, someone from administration,” she said. “It’s bringing a different perspective and allowing the school to go on offense instead of playing defense.”
Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine.