DENVER--It may not be happening as quickly as many had hoped, but there is growing evidence that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding is reaching communities to pay for better and interoperable communications.

Denver--host to this year's Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) annual conference--is a prime example, as area communities have received $30 million in DHS funding. The Denver area's success in securing this money has been largely attributable to the communities' willingness to work together, as federal directives have made it clear that homeland-security projects that include cooperative efforts should be moved to the front of the funding line.

With this in mind, Denver-area public-safety entities have formed a regional group that identifies and prioritizes projects to be submitted for grants, most of which do not require entities to provide local matching funds, said Dana Hansen, superintendent of communications for the Denver police department.

It hasn't always been easy, as participants had to carve out time from their busy daily schedules to meet and inevitable disagreements occurred as various projects were prioritized. And, of course, there have been political issues to deal with--"If you don't have political issues, then you live in a perfect world," Hansen said.

But the effort has been worth it. Grant funds have paid for a variety of gear, from new radios that let rural entities participate in area interoperability events to the installation of a $2 million NetworkFirst platform from M/A-COM that allows communications between disparate public-safety radio systems, Hansen said. Future grants are expected to fund microwave links for backhaul for the network, so entities do not have to pay recurring costs for data lines.

Certainly these tangible successes have been critical to Denver-area first responders, but the regional group also has realized a considerable intangible benefit--opening the lines of communication between entities that has led to greater cooperation in pursuit of the common mission of improving public safety.

"Before, we didn't have regular meetings with other departments," Hansen said. "The grant process really forced us to work together and put our differences aside."

E-mail me at djackson@primediabusiness.com.