My Two Cents:  It’s time to adapt and change the way we sell homeland security equipment and technology to the state and local

Since 9/11, state and local government agencies acquired billions of dollar of cameras, boats, radars, software, sonars, gates, you name it. Mainly paid for by DHS grants.

Since 2009, we have seen those grants reduced drastically. The State Homeland Security Program grant went from $842 million in 2010 to only $402 million today.  The Urban Area Security Initiative grant was at $862 million with 60 cities funded in 2010 to only $580 million with 29 cities funded today. The Port Security Grant Program is also down by 75% from $388 million in 2010 to only $100 million for this year. Those three grants together were a total of $2.1 billion in 2010 and today we are at $1.1 billion. That is a decrease of 50%.

What to do now? Most of the equipment (cameras, radars, monitors, boats) bought during the peak of the grants around 2008-2010 are now in desperate need of replacement or upgrading. We are not any safer today nor less vulnerable to criminal activities and acts of terrorism. The need is still there, but the money isn’t.

It’s time for us to change how we do business. We need to stop selling pieces of metal, plastic or disk and start selling data and solutions. A port is not buying a radar because they love the 10 feet antenna, the wires and the monitor. They buy that radar because they need the data that radar provides. A police department is not buying body cameras because it looks good with their uniform. They are buying it for the video evidence it captures.  

We need to get out of our comfort zone and start looking at what some of the most successful consumer businesses are doing. Only five years ago, Adobe Software was out of reach for most people with their Creative Suite bundle selling from $3,000-$5,000 per package. Today, you can use the entire suite ($5,000 worth of software) and have cloud storage for about $50 per month per user with upgrades and fixes included.

Let’s also look at the auto industry. Back in the 80s and early 90s, BMWs can only be purchased or leased through expensive corporate leasing programs. It was out of reach for most Americans and those who had those cars we knew had money. Today, most Americans can drive a BMW by leasing it. What used to be an $800 per month purchase is now a $400 a month lease. In 3 years, they can take it back to the dealer and pick up a new one.

What if a police department marine unit can lease a new boat at $3,000 a month with a service contract instead of paying $600,000 for that boat and worry about repairs and service later? Wouldn’t more police departments acquire more boats or replace old boats?

What if a port can pay $5,000 a month for radar data instead of buying it for $1,000,000? Wouldn’t we be able to have more radar coverage?

Most companies selling homeland security related equipment are in the business of manufacturing and selling the equipment. It is hard to change business models, but like anything in life, sometimes you just have to. The days of big ticket security equipment purchases are numbered, let’s start the evolution now.