After a winter in which most of east-central Georgia was crippled by an ice storm, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency visited Augusta on Wednesday to share inside tips on how counties could win grants and buy equipment to better combat natural disasters.
More than 30 grant writers from Richmond, Bulloch, Effingham, Laurens, Candler and Tattnall counties attended a workshop that U.S. Rep. John Barrow held to help communities understand funding opportunities available through FEMA.
Though public assistance grants were discussed, most of the workshop focused on requesting FEMA funding to reduce the impact of future emergencies.
Including a $4.8 million reimbursement announced Wednesday, Augusta is set to receive $11.5 million from FEMA for February’s ice storm according to Barrow’s office, but the funding was not without controversy. The city initially hired AshBritt, a debris-hauling company from Florida, under a no-bid contract to remove ice debris, while Columbia County had pre-disaster bids in place.
“I believe it was President Eisenhower who once said, ‘In preparing for battle, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,’ ” Barrow told the crowd. “In disasters, you have to improvise, and the more planning you can do ahead of time, the better you can improvise.”
With Augusta fire and emergency management divisions falling under one department, a lot of attention was placed on FEMA’s upcoming grant cycle in which $734 million will be awarded to public safety agencies in Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky for firefighter equipment, staffing and prevention.
The grant application period starts Nov. 3 and lasts 30 days. Winners of the $360 million in firefighter assistance, $340 million in adequate staffing and $34 million in fire prevention grants will be announced Feb. 9 through their congressional offices, said Alma Christian, FEMA’s regional fire program specialist in Atlanta.
Christian reminded county officials in attendance that firefighter assistance grants require a 10 percent funding match for communities that have populations between 20,000 and 1 million people, including special events, such as the Masters Tournament. She said FEMA is not offering money this year for used or refurbished vehicles.
“Don’t just sit around and procrastinate,” said Christian, who has worked for FEMA for 28 years. ”Get your applications in early.”
She said the trick to winning grants is to include budget summaries and real-life examples in applications of how federal funding will help protect residents and critical infrastructure, such as major highways and railroads. At times, she recommended quoting FEMA’s guidebook verbatim.
“The trick is to tell us what we want to hear,” she said.