No Phone Calls Necessary

No Phone Calls Necessary

The ASAP program allows emergency personnel to arrive on the scene faster than before

No Phone Calls NecessaryThe Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP), a relatively new program created by the Association of Public Safety Officials (APCO) and the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), can facilitate the rapid transmission of alarms straight to public safety communication centers within seconds after they are verified by the Central Station. There is no need for a central station operator to make a telephone call to the 911 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAPs) because ASAP sends the alarm message directly to the public safety dispatcher’s Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) monitor where they can then dispatch the alarm to the appropriate response teams. ASAP bypasses the need for phone calls, allowing emergency responders to arrive on the scene must quicker than the traditional method of the alarm monitoring service having to call the PSAP.

With ASAP, a tripped alarm is received by an alarm monitoring company and then sent electronically to a web service operating on what is now called a Message Broker, which is managed by the CSAA and directs transmissions to a nationwide message switch that connects to all 50 states. The state control points in turn are connected to most 911 PSAPs. The alarm notification message contains data that is relayed directly to 911 CAD systems that facilitate the dispatch of cops, firefighters and other emergency services. Through address verification, ASAP has the ability to provide the correct address, the type of alarm (fire or burglar, for example) that has been triggered, and send the alarm to appropriate dispatch positions. By using ASAP instead of waiting on an available 911 call-taker to answer that phone call from the alarm company, the response time is significantly shorter and occurs without error. Using ASAP allows dispatchers to have more time to devote to emergency calls, such as vehicle accidents and medical emergencies.

The Beginning of Something Great

The success of ASAP didn’t happen overnight. In fact, there have been several efforts to help deal with alarm monitoring over the past 20 years. With that amount of prolonged dedication, ASAP was bound for greatness. The service officially started in 2004 with Vector Security as the first monitoring station to pilot with Richmond and York County, Va., along with a development period for a pilot site that was launched in July 2006 in York County and August 2006 in Richmond. Bill Hobgood, project manager for the City of Richmond’s Department of Information Technology, Public Safety Application Solutions Team, accomplished the first interface by creating a template with GE Security.

Enhancements to the pilot site were performed throughout 2008 and 2009, and the service was adopted as an ANSI standard in January 2009. By 2012, ASAP was ready for service with its Message Broker server secured and managed by the CSAA, Vector Security and the City of Richmond Police Department’s Division of Emergency Communications and able to successfully transmit emergency medical, fire, and law enforcement alarms messages.

“Since ASAP first went live, the amount of phone calls to dispatchers has dropped significantly,” stated Hobgood. “In Richmond alone, dispatchers have received more than 20,000 alarm notifications through the use of the ASAP service. There is no extra work for dispatchers to relay the alarm message and ASAP shaves off between one and three minutes of 911 processing time, helping emergency responders arrive on scene faster than ever before.”

In addition to York County and Richmond, Va., other PSAPs that are now using ASAP include Tempe, Ariz., Houston, James City County, Va., and the District of Columbia. More than 10 companies are currently using or in the process of getting connected to the service, and more than 90 other companies are charter members. With ASAP’s high success rate, the amount of companies and PSAPs using the program are expected to grow significantly in the next few years.

ASAP’s Performance

The ASAP service must first be established through a Message Broker, which serves as a gateway between the dispatch center and the Central Station’s automation platform. Once this is provided, ASAP can then create and proc

ess alarms that come from the Central Station and the alarm can then be sent through the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) in order to reach the dispatcher’s CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system. The alarm will show up as a pending call-for-service event on the dispatcher’s CAD computer screen where the correct emergency response teams can be notified immediately. The process may sound like a long and tedious task, but it only takes a matter of seconds to send the electronic alarm message, saving critical time for any type of emergency.

In 2012, Houston began using ASAP. Since its implementation, the city has experienced a drastic drop in the amount of calls they experience, and the amount of time dispatchers spend on calls has also been reduced. “ASAP provides a bidirectional communication, and it really does help,” said Joe Carr, dealer relation representative, United Central Control, and co-chair of the ASAP Outreach Committee. “Since Houston began using ASAP, they have experienced a 36 percent drop in overall phone calls and a 27 percent decrease in hold time.”

ASAP frees up a large amount of time for dispatchers to spend on other calls, which also helps to demonstrate why there has been so much positive response and feedback from those that are currently using the service. For example, in the event of a natural disaster, such as the recent hurricanes and tornadoes, phone lines are generally busy within minutes. Dispatchers are constantly on the phones, and this would include all phone calls that take place when an alarm has been tripped. If a dispatcher takes the time to answer a call for any security alarms, whether it’s false alarms, nonemergency, or a burglar alarm, someone calling in for immediate medical care may receive a busy signal.

In this case, ASAP plays a vital role in ensuring that each necessary phone call has a greater chance at getting answered and triggered alarms can be sent electronically without disrupting the dispatchers, especially when circumstances may be that a town has been hit by a tornado. And that is precisely what ASAP aims to keep doing. As technology for the service continues to advance, so will the alarm messages.

The biggest challenge ASAP has faced so far is getting noticed. Not everyone knows that this service is available, and awareness needs to grow. Glenn Schroeder, chief technology officer for Security Network of America and the co-chair of the ASAP Technical Operations Committee, said it is very important for Central Stations to get educated about the program and know that it is currently available. In order to get connected, it’s as simple as contacting the CSAA to begin the connection process.

Getting Connected

For a company to start using ASAP, the Central Station must get connected to a PSAP that has the ability to network with the CAD systems. There are a few software requirements in order for ASAP to be implemented, and the CSAA can help supply the company with the type of software updates and changes they may need for ASAP communications to take place. Certain network hardware is also required for the VPN connection, but some companies may already be compatible. The CSAA will assist in the entire process, and it takes only a few months to get everything set up and ready for operation.

Mary Jensby, call center director for the “Control Center” of RFI, Inc. and co-chair for the ASAP Outreach Strategy Committee, has already helped one company get connected to ASAP and is currently assisting RFI complete the process.

“Getting a company fully compatible with ASAP takes about three or four months. But it’s not about just one person; it’s a team effort. Without the support from Mark Simpson, my IT support for the Central Station and Michael Harn, the IT director for RFI, transitioning over to ASAP wouldn’t have been quite so easy,” said Jensby. “I have had the pleasure to work and meet with many individuals in the security industry. The ASAP program is a contribution of teamwork between the PSAPs, the industry and the fact that life safety is on the minds of all parties involved.”

Once ASAP is ready to use, dispatchers must be trained on how to properly use the program. This is almost a completely seamless process, and most dispatchers love the transition because of the quick and easy automation that ASAP provides. According to Jensby, the CAD system is connected within just a few seconds, making it a simple task for dispatchers to learn and use. For the system that Jensby uses, the message pops up onto the dispatcher’s computer monitor where the dispatcher can send the alarm as an instant dispatch message to responders, instead of having to call the security agency. Once the message has been sent, the dispatcher can see if it has been accepted by looking at the alarm dispatch history. By using ASAP, the dispatcher spends only seconds on sending an alarm message to emergency responders.

The Future of ASAP

As ASAP becomes more popular and readily available to companies around the country, the program will continue to evolve to be even more accurate and streamlined. Future legislation that would require all alarm companies to provide this service to their customers is something that may happen in the not too distance future. Because ASAP has already shown its success and demonstrated how effective it can be at decreasing the amount of unneeded phone calls, the service may become a marketing strategy for some companies to attract even more customers. The first step in getting more companies to use the program is to get each jurisdiction that either already uses or has committed to the program on board. Once that is accomplished, regional and local businesses should follow suit. Eventually, the ASAP service will be available across the entire United States.

“The bottom line is that ASAP works,” Carr said. “We just need to keep getting the word out so this service can be utilized by as many people as possible.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Security Today.

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