Each year since 2001, the County of Monterey has received just under $1M from the federal Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP). By federal and state law, these funds are designated to support the needs and enhance the capabilities of public safety first responders (police, fire and emergency medical services) to prevent, protect and respond to terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies. In general terms, the funds are spent exclusively on related local planning, organization, acquisition of equipment, training including large scale exercises, and administrative management of the grant. The HSGP was not established simply to grant money with which local agencies support routine services or equipment replacement. Rather, the program is intended to address issues regional in scope that have been identified via locally conducted need and threat assessments. Further, all uses of the funds are subject to state and federal approval, and all proposed programs and projects must address federally and state mandated homeland security priorities in order to be approved.
To facilitate the identification and meeting of local security needs, state guidelines require the formation of a Grant Approval Authority (GAA), and direct that it be comprised of the following members: the County Public Health Officer, a County Fire Chief, and Municipal Fire Chief, the County Sheriff and a Municipal Police Chief. In Monterey County, meetings of the GAA are facilitated by the Office of Emergency Services (OES); OES also is responsible for the administration of the grant funds. Monterey County’s GAA has formed two subcommittees – “Training and Exercise” and “Interoperability” -- to advise it regarding local threats and other emergency management needs. In addition, every spring when the new grant awards for the upcoming fiscal year are announced by the State, the GAA solicits proposals from all local first responder organizations for use of the funds. Around June 1st of each year, the GAA meets to hear the proposals, assess their relative value, and then vote on what it will seek approval from the state to use the upcoming FY’s HSGP allotment. A 4/5 vote of the GAA is required for a project to be accepted and forwarded to the State for final approval. GAA meetings are not open to the public for reasons of local security, but all approved expenditures of grant funds become public information.
To ensure that the State approves its plans to expend each year’s grant, the GAA must demonstrate how each proposed project will benefit the entire county and not just individual public safety departments. Accordingly, this standard is imposed on the local organizations that seek HSGP funding. The net effect over the years has been an increased county-wide capacity to meet the challenges that the emergencies we face can present. The regional emphasis of spending HSGP funds has provided access to equipment and services unavailable prior to 2001. Moreover, it has increased the opportunities for public safety personnel throughout the county to participate in training and deploy equipment during emergencies to which they otherwise would not have had access. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, each year’s funds are too limited for the GAA to fund every agency’s requests. As a consequence, all proposals have to be prioritized. Not all ideas submitted to the GAA are equal in importance to local security, and not all proposals are equal in regional scope. The function of the GAA is not to ensure that any given individual agency benefits equally with the others, but rather that the projects that get funded fill the most pressing security needs of our area given the amount of HSGP funding available.