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Communities throughout the United States are relying wholly or in large part on Homeland Security grant funds to develop plans, conduct design studies, and purchase initial infrastructure equipment for extraordinarily expensive and short-lived P25 public-safety radio systems. Two urban areas in California estimated that these systems are expected to cost more than $1 billion dollars each. Neither of these regional groups have a firm plan for obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding from local sources that is needed to complete the acquisition and to operate the systems.

This is occurring throughout the country and the funding gap is likely to increase.

In 2009 I presented a seminar about the financial impact to local governments when incredibly expensive radio systems are purchased with one-time grant funds.  The seminar included the presentation of a financial model that shows participation in a regional P25 digital trunked radio system by a small to medium size city may cost at least 700% more than traditional analog voted repeater systems for equivalent coverage.  Very few state and local agencies are planning for the expense required to sustain and replace these systems and many agencies have embarked on projects without a commitment for completely funding the initial acquisition.

Using federal grant funds to begin large and costly projects, for which funds are not identified or available to complete, will result in a significant waste of the initial investment. Costly design studies and equipment languish while waiting for unfunded components to be acquired to complete the system. Because of budget shortfalls currently experienced by most local jurisdictions, funding in the magnitude necessary to finish these projects is questionable, leaving these already large investments at risk.

Furthermore, it has become evident that broadband alternatives will hasten the obsolescence of P25 digital trunked radio systems.  The advent of workable broadband technology for public safety voice radio communication will reduce the beneficial life expectancy of P25 systems. The availability of federal funding will be bifurcated between P25 systems and more modern technology, potentially leaving city and county governments with huge unfunded liabilities to complete construction of these near-obsolete P25 systems.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General issued a report on the State of California’s (mis) Management of Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants awarded  during fiscal years 2006 through 2008. This article was inspired by the OIG report.  The entire report is available below.  Directly relevant sections are on pages 20, 28, and 31.