ORLANDO—National economic concerns should not discourage public-safety agencies from pursuing the funding necessary to make their plans for interoperable communications a reality, a speaker said yesterday during the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Winter Summit.

While there may not be as much money in government coffers if the economy dives into a recession as many have speculated, public-safety officials should not wait for better budgetary times to initiate their case for interoperability projects, said Tom Miller, Motorola’s director of public-safety programs. Miller said such times are ideal for educating an elected official to be a “champion” for a future project.

“I would argue that the best time to go after money for a large project is when the budget is the tightest,” said Miller, who pursued funding for Michigan’s statewide P25 network prior to retiring as deputy director of that state’s police department last March. “When the budget is the tightest, that’s when the elected officials actually have a little bit of time to listen to you. Because, when they have money, everybody is at the purse strings trying to get to that money.

“When things are tightest and not everybody is competing for dollars that are out there, that’s the time to start laying your groundwork, providing the education to those elected officials in terms of what you’re trying to do.”

Keys to laying that groundwork include persistence and patience because few projects receive the desired funding during the first year—or even the second year—requested, Miller said. In addition, the goals and benefits of the projects must be clearly understandable, so a busy elected official can grasp the concept well enough to advocate it during budget meetings.

“You’ve got to have the project champions, those folks that have responsibility for the budget—those political leaders, those community leaders—that understand what you’re trying to do enough to be able to speak to it publicly and get behind it to support it when it comes to making financial decision for your community,” Miller said.

Public-safety representatives should be creative in pursuing money sources for large projects, including local bond issues, state or regional initiatives or one of many federal grant programs, Miller said. And public safety should not limit the scope of its sources to traditional interoperable communications initiatives, noting that transportation funding can be used to buy radio equipment in many cases.

For those pursuing grant money, Miller emphasized the need for public-safety entities to be part of regional or statewide initiatives, so their projects can receive greater priority during the funding process. In addition, Miller reiterated the need for clearly defining the goals and benefits of the project in the grant application.

“Just because it’s 20 pages doesn’t make it a good grant proposal,” Miller said, noting that one of his successful grant proposals was only three pages long. “It should be clear, concise and hit your points.”