Alarm Protocol

New program sends dispatch data electronically

It’s late at night, and you’re dead asleep. Suddenly, your home’s security alarm screams to life and you foggily realize that someone is trying to break in.

Meanwhile, a representative at your security company’s alarm monitoring center receives the burglar alarm and picks up the phone to call your local police. The phone rings and rings ... Then the rep is put on hold for a few minutes. Finally, a dispatcher answers. The rep relays the alarm information and your address and phone number to the dispatcher. And only then is an officer sent to your house.

Many people—even within the security industry—may be surprised to learn how traditional alarm dispatches work. It can be a lengthy process. But two industry associations are seeking to change it forever.

Faster Than Fast

The Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP), developed by the Central Station Alarm Association and Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, reduces the two- to three-minute relay that currently exists between alarm monitoring companies and dispatch, in part by allowing data to be processed by a computer at the dispatch center.

The program seeks to reduce the number of telephone calls in emergencies, eliminate miscommunication, and reduce processing and response time. All of these improvements help save lives. ASAP is already proving effective in demanding real-world tests. In one instance, the protocol enabled police to arrest three robbery suspects in less than six minutes.

The Pilot Phase

ASAP lets member monitoring centers transmit emergency data electronically. Traditionally, representatives from monitoring companies must relay alarm information to dispatch centers over the phone, which can be timeconsuming. But now, ASAP is helping to minimize the amount of time between the call and dispatch.

Monitronics International, a leading alarm monitoring company that works through a network of nationwide, independent authorized dealers, is one of the first central stations to participate in the program. The company uses ASAP to monitor emergency calls in Richmond, Va., and from the Houston Emergency Center, which is the fourth-largest public security access point (PSAP) facility in the United States.

“This program replaces the telephone calls between the alarm company and the 911 PSAP call-takers,” said Mary Jensby, Monitronics Central Station director. “Central stations will gain an immediate communication from the PSAP, eliminating hold times sometimes experienced when making a dispatch. The program will not only reduce the amount of phone calls that are received by an agency on a daily basis, but will also eliminate the potential for human error.”

In an emergency situation, that potential for human error can be deadly. When an alarm is being relayed traditionally, even highly trained dispatchers and central station representatives may have a miscommunication or accidentally transpose a number in the customer’s address. And that means more time before the police are dispatched.

“ASAP has been very beneficial for our station,” said Mikhail Blakely, a research specialist for Monitronics’ Central Station. “The amount of time we spend on the phone with both the Houston and Richmond dispatch centers has been drastically reduced, which allows for quicker response times by the authorities. Another key benefit is the address validation process. Having the ability to electronically verify within seconds whether a new account we add to our system is in Houston’s or Richmond’s jurisdiction saves a great deal of time. It also allows us to avoid bothering the dispatch center with requests not related to active alarms.”

Through ASAP, Monitronics also receives real-time updates on alarms it has accepted from both Houston and Richmond.

“This allows us to give our customers more information about what happened with an alarm activation,” Blakely said. “Knowing when the officers have arrived at the property, when they cleared the location, and if any problems were found allows us to better demonstrate that we are working together with the authorities to help keep customers’ property and lives safe.”

Real-world Trials

Since deploying ASAP in August 2011, Monitronics has requested 5,178 dispatches from Houston alone. And both Richmond and Houston have already experienced faster response, thanks to ASAP. A recent incident in Houston illustrates the potential of the program.

Monitronics emergency dispatch operator Delia Rico received a counter- motion burglary alarm from a Houston sandwich shop early in the morning of Dec. 1, 2011. As Rico quickly called the manager, she also received a second motion alarm. The manager instructed Rico to call the police; she sent an alarm notification using ASAP to the Houston Emergency Center. Less than six minutes later, the Houston Police Department called Monitronics to inform Rico that three suspects had been arrested.

ASAP also faced a challenging real-world test in Virginia when parts of the state were hit by both an earthquake and a hurricane within a week’s time. Following the 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 23, 2011, residents of Richmond inundated PSAPs with 911 calls. Thanks to the faster, streamlined ASAP process, the call-takers were able to handle a heavy call load much faster than usual.

During Hurricane Irene, which struck Aug. 27, PSAP operators took nearly 3,500 calls in 24 hours. In both incidents, traditional phone lines were overwhelmed, leaving some callers waiting in frustration. However, those calls handled by ASAP monitoring stations, including Monitronics, were delivered to Richmond’s PSAP in just five seconds, according to Bill Hobgood, project manager for the city of Richmond.

“By speeding up the dispatch process, we could reach customers during the precious moments when a second feels like an eternity,” Jensby said.

Before long, monitoring companies will begin using ASAP in other major cities. Intertek/ETL and UL recently announced that the ASAP program meets the requirements of the NFPA Code 72, Jensby said. CSAA’s ASAP committee will announce additional PSAP sites early this year.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Security Today.

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