Funding Resilient Communities across North Carolina

NC rural counties find funding solutions to for needed resources that will build a more prepared and resilient community.

Author: Justin J. Graney, Chief of External Affairs & Communications

The resources and capacity to respond to the public safety needs of a community doesn’t come without a cost. In North Carolina’s rural counties that funding can come as a challenge. With local emergency managers seeking opportunities and resources to execute on plans to build a more prepared and resilient community, funding from the Capacity Building Competitive Grant Program (CBCG) provided a solution. 

With a population of just over 18,800 people, Yancey County sits among the black mountains of the Appalachian chain. In the mountain environment, communications between responders can be challenging. After a wilderness search and rescue mission was complicated by the lack of interoperable communications, county Emergency Management Director Jeff Howell decided to find a solution. 

“When the unmanned aircraft teams arrived to assist in finding the missing person, their radios couldn’t talk with our radios. The channel templates in their radios were different than the fire department’s radios, and it complicated the situation,” said Howell. 

With $119,000 in CBCG Program funds, Howell purchased 109 radios that were dispersed throughout the county’s fire departments and doubled the number of channels that responders can utilize to manage emergencies and disasters. 

“If it wasn’t for the CBCG Program, Yancey County couldn’t have completed this project. It simply wouldn’t have happened,” said Howell.

Several radios lined up on table.
The Yancey County radio cache purchased through the CBCG program to support incident interoperable communications. 

In nearby Ashe County, Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill knows how critical grant funding is to building response capacity in rural communities. Having spent over 25 years protecting her county, Gambill has experience searching for opportunities to increase the number of tools in the Ashe County toolbox. With a regional focus of neighbors helping neighbors, Gambill is an active participant in the Domestic Preparedness Region Program (DPR), which utilizes federal homeland security funding to purchase resources and equipment that is shared throughout the state. Ashe County hosts the DPR assets of a Multiple Event Response Trailer (MERT), a Companion Animal Mobile Equipment Trailer (CAMET), and several trailers of mass care supplies for disaster shelter operations. The county’s emergency sheltering equipment and supplies are scattered throughout the county in different locations. One of the primary storage locations is in a shed behind the old high school gym that lacks lights for nighttime access, making it a safety concern. Ashe County applied for and received $385,000 for a Central Receiving and Distribution Point (CRDP) facility in their county. The new CRDP will allow all the county’s disaster sheltering supplies to be in one secure location that is safe for county personnel to quickly retrieve at any time of day. 

“We are very fortunate to have such a great team in Ashe County from our county manager to our finance team. Everyone works together which makes it so much easier,” said Gambill. “It not for the CBCG program, it may have been years until we were able to build a CRDP facility.” 

Two door building in gravel lot.
The Ashe County CRDP facility with a proud Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill  opening the gate. 
Inside of aluminum building.
Inside the new Ashe County CRDP facility. 

Stokes County, which is home to several outdoor points of interest received $306,578.24 from the FY22 CBCG Program and another $294,000 from the FY23 CBCG Program. These funds have completed multiple key projects within the county to build resiliency and capability, as well as enhance safety measures for local and visiting outdoor enthusiasts. The county purchased unmanned aircraft with infrared technology for search and rescue operations and wildfire reconnaissance, an off-road UTV with trailer, a boat for diver deployment and a remote operated vehicle (ROV) capable of searching underwater using sonar. Belews Lake is over 100 feet deep in places with debris that could cause a hazard to public safety divers. The ROV alleviates that hazard and allows personnel to quickly deploy to search for drowning victims. Prior to the purchase of these assets, Stokes County had to rely heavily on other agencies to provide resources during search and rescue operations.  

“When we applied for these grants, we took a long look at what would not only benefit Stokes County, but how could we benefit our neighbors,” said Scott Aaron, county Fire Marshal. 

It wasn’t long after acquiring these resources until they were put into use. Training on the ROV occurred in November starting with basic drills in the YMCA pool. A month later, responders were at Belews Lake responding to a drowning victim. The ROV was able to reduce the use of divers in the cold and tricky waters.

Drone and carry case on table.
Blue underwater vehicle.
Blue boat on trailer with writing on the side that says "Stokes County Emergency Management"
Blue ATV on trailer.

In addition to the response equipment purchased, Stokes County utilized the funding to upfit their new emergency operations center (EOC). From paint to display screens, the new (to them) EOC serves as a base for disaster operations and provides meeting space for training and education for public safety throughout the county. A new generator provides continuous power for the EOC during power outages. When asked if these projects would have been a reality without the CBCG program, Emergency Management Director Brandon Gentry replied, “No. Without CBCG it simply wouldn’t have happened. The county wouldn’t have been able to fund it. The CBCG funding was critical to making all of this a possibility.”  

Meeting room with TVs at the front and several rows of long desks with office chairs.

With federal funding for capacity building seeing reductions in recent budgets, the importance of sustainable state funding to assist local emergency management programs with preparedness and resourcing is important. The CBCG grant has provided three years of funding for rural emergency management programs and continues to make a difference. For more information on the CBCG program, visit