How to Cope with Reduced Federal Funding: Challenges & Opportunities for Emergency Response Agencies

The current reduction in federal funding opportunities for emergency preparedness is of great concern to local and state agency personnel. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services reduced its Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) funding from $390.5 million in fiscal year (FY) 2010 to $352.0 million in FY 2011 – a drop of almost 10 percent. Similarly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded 4 percent less grant money in FY 2011 than it distributed during the previous fiscal year.

Adding to the financial heartburn faced by local and state officials charged with overseeing emergency preparedness activities is the reality that deficit-reduction efforts now under way in Washington, D.C., will probably pare federal grant monies even more in the foreseeable future. Yet the threat of an emergency that impacts thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives – whether a health pandemic or a natural disaster, such as a flood or tornado – seems to loom larger than ever before.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

In this financial climate, emergency preparedness officials face the only option ever available when much-needed resources are declining: work smarter, not harder. For these professionals, working smarter translates into the following strategies for identifying and using ever-more-limited federal grant monies for emergency preparedness programs and activities:

Get up to speed on the latest technologies available to identify innovative products that will not only do the job better (perhaps at lower cost) but also fulfill a variety of requirements and/or work effectively in several preparedness scenarios. Gone are the days of single-purpose specialty items. New technologies and products – many of them several generations ahead of their predecessors – are constantly entering the marketplace.

Become an expert on all of the grants that can be tapped to acquire a particular product or service – and take advantage of all of the funding sources available. For example, triage tags are on the authorized equipment lists of 10 FEMA grant programs whereas some types of equipment are authorized for only one or two grant programs.

Consider interoperability in the evaluation of products and services to eliminate unnecessary purchases, realize purchasing economies, and maximize the impact of every grant dollar. An important question to ask before buying is: Can this product be used throughout all (or most) stages of a rescue – e.g., from the disaster site to the emergency room?

Collaborate with sister agencies to identify products and services that will fulfill mutual needs. Think creatively about each agency’s actual needs (rather than “wants”), then consider products and services that could mutually benefit all of the agencies involved. In addition, to achieve significant economies of scale, submit an application for a multi-agency grant. Several states and municipalities have used this collaborative strategy very effectively.

One Example: Modern Emergency Response Tags

For a better understanding of how some of these strategies work, consider the example of modern emergency response tags – a critical item in the emergency preparedness arsenal of any state or locality that is included in the authorized equipment lists of 10 different FEMA grant programs. Multipurpose emergency response tags allow patients to be processed, managed, and tracked from the disaster scene to the receiving facility, fulfilling the information needs of all the various members of the emergency response team.

To leverage this multi-discipline approach, advanced emergency response tags can be used by:

  • Emergency/triage responders after securely applying tags to patients and their belongings to accurately scan the tags’ barcodes to share information through a secure central database via the internet;
  • Emergency receivers after scanning the tags to retrieve patient information upon their arrival at a hospital, shelter, or other receiving facility, thus reducing the admission time;
  • Public health officials, after accessing the database, to track patient movement and discover areas of greatest concern; and
  • Other government officials while monitoring the database to stay up to date on the status of an event, quickly locate patients, and keep concerned family members and friends better informed about the patients’ whereabouts.

The previous generations of paper and plastic sleeve triage tags were attached to patients’ limbs by uncomfortable string or rubber bands. The advanced tags now available are easier to apply to patients, more secure – they stay on throughout the entire patient processing route – and more comfortable than their predecessors.

StatBand advanced emergency response tags provide but one example of the items included in this category of FEMA’s authorized equipment list. However, the promotion of a multidiscipline interagency approach during times of disaster makes newer-generation tags not only more cost-effective and more informative but also much more useful for all agencies and jurisdictions involved in disaster situations and surge activities.


In the current grant environment as well as for the foreseeable future, jurisdictions will be called upon to continue providing quality resources for emergency personnel and surge-capacity situations with far fewer dollars than in recent years. Unquestionably, additional funding cuts will create enormous challenges for state and local preparedness professionals. However, by capitalizing on new interoperable technologies with multiple uses, like StatBand, the professionals from various responder disciplines and jurisdictions will be able to maximize positive outcomes in future emergency situations.

For additional information on: FEMA Preparedness Grants Authorized Equipment List,

HHS’s FY2011 funding, visit

Statband emergency response tags, visit

Melissa Roessler

Melissa Roessler is the project manager for StatBand, a well-known producer of the response tags described above, and works closely with local and state officials in emergency management agencies, public health preparedness offices, hospitals, and other organizations to provide identification solutions that help responders tag, triage, and track multiple patients and their belongings/medical records both quickly and accurately. From hospital emergency departments to field responders, she has been involved over the past 10 years in helping health care providers and emergency responders advance patient safety through positive patient identification.



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