Foundations for Success in First Responder Contracting

Follow the Money
Most first responder activities are carried out at the state and local government level, but the majority of funding for programs and equipment come from ­federal grants.

May 2006 - U.S. Army 1st Sgt Wally Keller, left, and Sgt Jason Horner, both of the 81st Civil Support Team, don personal protective equipment and inspect testing equipment prior to investigating a building for hazardous agents during a hazardous substance response exercise at the North Dakota Air National Guard. The North Dakota civil support team is training to react as fire responders to possible biological, chemical or radiological threats and events in their region. (U.S. Department of Defense Photo: Senior Master Sgt David H. Lipp)

The Department of Homeland Security’s web site publishes how much grant money each state has received. Five programs within the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) disbursed a total of US$1.7 billion in 2006, based on population, risk assessment or a combination of the two. Pilot projects suggest clues to emerging priorities.

In over 30 of the largest metropolitan regions, multi-jurisdictional task forces plan on how to handle different aspects of security problems. Most vendors focus on a few regions in order to have a realistic shot at their best prospects: where grant money is designated for a high-priority problem that they can solve. They expect to market to several task force members rather than to just one or two officials, as may have happened in the past.

“I’m focusing in particular the next generation of interoperable communications,” says Robert LeGrande, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. “Broadband wireless is clearly the platform of choice for emergency response and preparedness. Our focus in the National Capital Region is to have a device that can integrate voice, video, geographical information and other data, and be seamlessly interoperable among regional partners.

“These applications already exist. Interoperable voice, video and data open up the ability to get advance notice from remote sensors of chemical and biological agents, aggregating data that can provide advance notice about a hazardous release, and monitor the dispersant of harmful substances.”

Aug 2006 - A U.S. Army Soldier from the 85th WMD Civil Support Team is decontaminated by fellow Soldiers during earthquake-response exercise Operation Vigilant Guard in Ogden, Utah. (U.S. Army Photo: SPC Chris Gaardner)

Other emerging and sustained priorities nationwide include:

  • Situational awareness technology: for example, combining GIS, satellite imagery, mobile voice and transmissions, data fusion, population exposure to hazardous materials, so that the entire emergency management team can understand the impact of the incident, know what resources are available, and deploy the right resources to minimize damage, injury and casualties.        
  • Disaster recovery for critical applications: States with widely dispersed population are collaborating with major city governments to build regional disaster recovery systems of such applications as shared resources.
  • Continuity of operations planning is becoming mandatory in some jurisdictions. That may include teleworking, as jurisdictions considering policies and potential solutions that would enable continuity of operations even if ­pandemic protocols were to prevent employees from coming to the workplace.
  • Health and human services operations: governments are seeking integrated applications for benefits eligibility and administration, so people don’t have to run around to multiple offices – if the offices are still standing – for post-disaster assistance with schools, housing, business recovery, medical and drug benefits, and emergency funding.
  • Medical technologies and information networks: the avian flu virus has raised the priority of pandemic prediction and management systems.

Know Who Does What
Department of Homeland Security publishes three documents that define roles, responsibilities, and, ultimately, needs of first responders and emergency management in the United States:

  • The National Incident Management System (NIMS) defines the responsibilities of stakeholders at the local, state, county and national levels in specific types of emergencies.
  • The US National Response Plan provides the protocols for “If this happens, this is what we do...”, and describes how the US federal government coordinates with state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector in response to emergency and other disasters.
  • The National Preparedness Goal defines measurable readiness targets for 15 scenarios and 36 essential capabilities for types of response. Its task taxonomy suggests the priorities for emergency response investments nationwide.

What would the Red Cross and the US military need to respond to a large scale natural disaster? Because D&B Specialty Foods of Toronto knew the answer long before Hurricane Katrina hit, they were a supplier of choice for thousands of meals-ready-to-eat when storms ravaged the American southeast in 2005.

 Another idea: the National Guard Bureau does purchasing at the federal level; the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) lobbies for funds to get the Guard the equipment it needs. Vendors should consider joining NGAUS if the Guard is among its prospects. They’ll gain a dedicated advocate: Hazell Booker, Director of Industry & Associa­tion Liaison with NGAUS, connects its members with the leadership. “Networking with the Guard is huge,” explains Booker, “the Adjutants General come to Washington three times a year. We know them all on a first-name basis.”

Come Ready to Solve Their Problems
“Give more thought to problem solving before you meet with us,” says Robert LeGrande. “These are complex problems that need a lot of thought. I need vendors to do more than listen to me for a few minutes and then try to bridge to a standard pitch that leaves me trying to fit my problems to your solutions.”

Minimal research online can get you many municipalities’ strategic plans. LeGrande alone has published over 30 articles and presentations on the Washington DC Metropolitan Region. “We’re all willing to listen to innovative ideas. If vendors know how their solution fits our problem, they should just call us. It’s easy to get a meeting with us as long as you’re patient with our schedules.”

Present a unique value proposition for your solution. Often, the winner ­doesn’t have the best technology... just the best business case. Al Gordon, CEO of National Strategies Inc. in Washington DC, agrees. A former New York State official, Gordon’s company now helps dozens of clients win state and local government contracts. “If you don’t make the case in the first meeting with a state or local government official about why they should do business with you, forget it. You must offer something tangible, a proof of concept or an analysis; some value for their time, some reason why they would want to build that relationship with you.”

Call at the right level. Most state agencies and large cities have a CIO or MIS Director. However, as their typical tenure is 18 to 36 months, it’s not realistic focus marketing efforts on the hope that he or she will make their solution a standard for all the agencies within the state.

Alternatively, an agency CIO or project manager often has the mandate to develop a solution, the budget authority to do the job, and because they can be in place for 10 years or more, the tenure to see it through. They also participate in cross-departmental task forces: for example, a state CIO for Health and Human Services is likely to know if that government is looking at telework or biohazard response or pandemic planning.

Pursue the right scale of opportunity. If your solution is going to be most advantageous to large jurisdictions, then plan on teaming with integrators. If you’re selling an application that can be deployed stand-alone by a small agency without an integrator, then that state or jurisdiction may be receptive to your proposal and may want to buy and install it themselves.

Connect within specialty associations. Let’s say you have a solution for integrated public communication that takes into account the special needs of the disabled and elderly. Every state has elderly and less-able citizens. Many large integrators participate in NASCIO, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. However, the decision-makers might be easier to reach at:

  • The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials; or
  • The International Association of Emergency Managers, which certifies all career-track emergency managers, but not police or firefighters or health officials; or
  • The Mid-Atlantic All-Hazards Forum, which attracts leaders in police, fire, and other first responders and emergency managers in seven mid-Atlantic states; or
  • The Emergency Preparedness and Response Conference for People with Disabilities, the Elderly, Pediatrics, and Animals.

Judy Bradt is Principal of Summit Insight, and author of the report Homeland Security Markets in the Northeast USA. For practical advice on partnership development as well as contacts and procedures for state govern­ment decision-making, download the report from www.summitinsight.com/publications.htm

Find out more:
International Association of Emergency Managers: www.iaem.com
National Guard – Adjutants General by State: www.ngaus.org/index.asp?bid=142
Dept of Homeland Security (Policy Documents): www.dhs.gov/xprepresp/publications/
© FrontLine Security 2006