I agree with Resq14's comments about the e-application system. Yes there were problems - I went three days toward the end without being able to log on myself. But, by that point the application was complete and all that was left was some fine tuning of the narrative. FEMA/USFA did the right thing and extended the deadline to address the overload, so in the end everything turned out all right for our application (and by the looks of what I've read here and there so far, about 10,000 more between April 1st and 5th too).
During the whole month process, I contacted the help desk by both phone and e-mail with various questions. The folks who answered the phone were great and e-mails were replied to within a few hours. By the end of the month I'm sure these guys were working their butts off. My hat's off to them. My customer service was top-notch.
One glitch I ran into, about mid-March, was that some information I entered in our application would save in the short term but would disappear by the next day. I called the help desk about the problem. I was recontacted both telephonically and by e-mail by a member (I'll avoid the use of a name in this format) of the technical development team about the problem. This guy was just great. To be sure I could get a hold of him later, he gave me not only his office number, but also his PERSONAL cell phone number! Would you do that for a complete stranger? The problem was fixed within a day, and the rest of the process was glitch free.
I read some comments that FEMA/USFA should have been better prepared or expected this program to be this popular and designed a better system to handle it. If you followed the ups and downs and the uncertainty of the funding for this program over the last year, by the time the money was 100% confirmed, it didn't give them much time (a little over a month) to get this e-file system together. Common sense really - if there's no FIRE ACT money, there's no sense designing and implimenting an on-line system.
What's the best thing about the online application? My application and a paid grant writer's look exactly the same! Everybody's equal. What's going to make or break you is your answers to the non-narrative portions of the application.
And remember, there's fellow fire service folks that are doing the reviews. They're going to be able to tell right off if a grant writer or a firefighter wrote that application!
Best of luck to everyone who applied, I'll join the ranks of the 20,000 plus crossed fingers and toes! Stay safe!
FEMA Electronic Filing
I had no problems using the electronic filing system for the FEMA grants and I signed one numerous times right up until April 3rd. Also found the electonic help desk provided rapid responses to questions, often within a hour or two. Lots of things happen when numerous people try to use the system at once, especially when the deadline is only a few days away. FEMA was honest about their problems, fixed them as best they could undere the circumstances, and was helpful when you had problems. Can't ask for more than that.