Funding Options for Automated Wildfire Detection Technology


The largest obstacle to automated wildfire detection is not technology, but rather is cost.

The profound benefits that automated detection offers both private and public organizations are indisputable; however, many companies are unable to embrace this technology because they lack the financial resources.  Funding allotments determine the preventative measures companies can take to fight fire, which ultimately influences the amount of fire damage and patient outcomes.   But even if an automated detection purchase doesn't neatly fit into the annual budget, there are creative funding options to consider.  Cost doesn't need to be a deterrent to an automated wildfire detection investment; companies can seek revenue opportunities at local, state and federal levels.

Local Revenue Options

Local governments can raise funds for emergency buildings and services from a variety of different sources, including taxes, fees, and asset and service sales.  Each jurisdiction will be funded a little differently, so emergency services administrators will need to understand the details of their state legislature to determine how money can be raised.

Taxes

The main source of local revenue is generated from taxes.  Citizens can be taxed for services that are provided as a benefit of living in the city.  Real estate or parcel taxes are good sources of revenue because they are typically large and stable streams; they are taxes citizens are already familiar with paying, and they are deductible from Federal income taxes.  While sensitivity to raising taxes certainly exists, some areas may be agreeable to short-term property tax funding to help assist emergency fire services.  For example, citizens of Queen Creek, Arizona voted in 2007 for the community's first property tax to fund the establishment of a fire and EMS department.

There are many other taxes that can be levied to help emergency departments fund an automated detection system.  For example, the “fire flow tax” is a property tax assessed according to a computed fire flow requirement based on an Insurance Services Office (ISO) formula for fire flow.  Funds from this tax can sometimes be used to cover the expense of fire protection.  Taxes levied from sales also go into a community's general fund and can then be allocated to fire prevention services.  Other potential tax sources include income taxes, real estate transfer taxes, and utility-user taxes.

Fees

Imposing development impact and user fees ask community members who live in an area where specific prevention tactics would reduce a negative impact to pay their share for that benefit. Impact fees may be used for the establishment of infrastructure related to fire prevention (surveillance towers), but not for ongoing operational costs.  Revenue collected from building inspection fees, plan review and permitting, hazard materials storage and inspection fees and EMS user fees may also be used for fire prevention purchases.

Asset and Service Sales

Some fire departments are able to raise money for expensive purchases through the sale of used equipment or by offering special paid services.  Departments can sell used equipment, vehicles, apparatuses and other supplies to other agencies or collectors.  There are also plenty of programs and services fire departments could offer to earn funds for automated detection technology.  For example, departments could offer EMS continuing education courses or other trainings and services, such as driving courses, mechanics services or physicals for personnel in other departments.

Alternative Local Funding Sources

Each state may have additional funds (or fundraising opportunities) that emergency departments can take advantage of.  Some of them are listed below.

Cost-Sharing

One easy way to save money on the purchase of expensive equipment is to seek out cost-sharing opportunities with other departments who could benefit from the service it provides.  Automated wildfire detection technology offers widespread benefits to state and national parks, homeowners and business owners.  If camera surveillance could include more than one organization's property, a cost-sharing agreement could be proposed.

Leases

Many emergency departments lease expensive equipment to reduce the financing burden of outright purchasing.  Leasing allows departments to acquire crucial equipment immediately and make affordable payments during this time.  This also frees up funds needed for daily firefighting operations or other unexpected expenses.

Fundraisers

Many communities host fundraisers to support their emergency departments.  Automated wildfire detection that might be used to protect homes would be a purchase that residents are interested in and motivated to support.  Fundraisers are great opportunities for emergency service departments to showcase their services and inform the public on general health and safety issues.  If a department is fundraising for a specific item, such as an automated wildfire detection system, it is important to communicate this to the public and illustrate the potential benefits they will receive.

State Funding Sources

Many states offer loan and grant opportunities to emergency service departments.  These programs are funded through reliable revenue collections such as insurance surcharges or fees and fines imposed on drivers. 

Loans

Some states may offer loans to emergency service departments to assist in the purchase of necessary apparatuses, vehicles, and equipment.  For example, the New York State Emergency Services Revolving Loan Account offers residents the ability to borrow up to $500,000 at an annual fixed interest rate of 2.5 percent.  Automated detection technology may be justified under some of their loan categories as well as for similar loan offerings in other states.

Grants

Both special-purchase grants and matching grants are sometimes available through state governments.  Occasionally states will earmark funds for special programs or purchases.  Also, the state legislature may make excess funds available at the end of a fiscal year.  Matching grants offer a majority percentage of a desired fund amount and the grantee pays a smaller portion (typically 10-25 percent).  There are several grants offered across all states that may fund automated wildfire detection systems, such as the Rural Fire Assistance Grant Program, the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant, the State Fire Assistance Program and many other state-specific grants. 

Federal Funding Sources

The federal government is the largest provider of grants for emergency medical services, financing over 1,000 different grants.  Some federal grants are awarded directly to individuals and others are left to the states to decide how to allocate the money.

Grants

It is wise to use a grant database for any grant planning that may fund an automated wildfire detection system.  Websites like Grants.gov and FederalGrantsWire.com are great places to start.  If the description doesn't specifically mention automated wildfire detection, or the language used is unclear, it is important to call a contact who can clarify the purpose of the grant and confirm whether or not the funds can be used in this way.  Some grants that may support an automated wildfire detection system include the Rural Emergency Response Initiative, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant, the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, the Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program, the Federal Excess Personal Property Program, and the Emergency Management Performance Grants.

Foundations and Corporate Grants

Certain foundations and corporations that have a special interest in fire prevention may also offer grants to support firefighting services.  Someone interested in purchasing an automated wildfire detection system might want to begin by researching the businesses that offer this technology.  For example, Wildland Systems offers a grant that provides up to $30,000 of assistance for installing their system.  The purpose of the grant is to help entities reduce the amount of non-recurring expenses which are often difficult to fund with other types of grants and assistance since they are often targeted to help direct costs of these advanced systems including hardware, software, construction, network elements, system configuration and computer monitoring stations themselves.

Insurance companies may also offer benefits for installing an automated wildfire detection system.  One example is the FM Global Fire Prevention Grant Program.  FM Global is one of the largest business property insurers, and their grant program helps firefighters improve fire prevention, thereby protecting their clients' businesses.  Because some insurers support automated wildfire detection and may provide special benefits to neighborhoods or businesses included in the protection areas, communities may financially assist the purchase of this technology. 

Grant Proposal Tips

While all agencies have different guidelines for grant submissions, there are several best practice guidelines for writing effective proposals.  Below are a few tips for writing a successful grant proposal:

  1. Research the different grant opportunities and what their award priorities are.
  2. Write a concise, potent narrative that provides a clear project description, including the community risk and budget specifics, a cost-benefit analysis of the project and a specific explanation of how the project will improve day-to-day department function.
  3. Make sure all instructions have been faithfully adhered to and submit applications online when the option is available.
  4. Research grant writing formats and seek help when applying.  Have several people review the proposal before submitting it.

With many states seeing increasingly destructive wildfires, mitigation planning has become a legislative priority.  Tax incentives, grants and community support makes automated wildfire detection more accessible to the areas that need it.  Companies and government entities pursuing an automated wildfire detection purchase can begin by scrutinizing their local and state budgets as a foundation for organizing a fund acquisition plan.