Going phone-free: A ringing endorsement for ASAP

Bill Hobgood details Richmond’s experience leading an alarm ‘revolution’
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

LAS VEGAS—For Bill Hobgood, it’s easy to sum up the effectiveness of the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol: “We hate telephones ringing. We love ASAP.”

As project manager for the Department of Information Technology’s Public Safety Team in Richmond, Va., Hobgood knows firsthand how well the system works to eliminate errors in communication between central stations and public safety answering points, or PSAPs. When 911 information flows automatically via computer instead of being transmitted verbally by phone, the ringing stops and the dispatch process accelerates.

Hobgood offered his insights during a session at ISC West titled “The Automated Secure Alarm Protocol: An Alarms Notification Revolution.” He was joined on the panel by Hank Goldberg, vice president of Secure Global Solutions, and Mary Jensby, central station director for Monitronics. Ed Bonifas, VP for Alarm Detection Systems and immediate past president of the Central Station Alarm Association, served as moderator.

Richmond and York County, Va., were part of a CSAA pilot project to establish the ASAP standard, with a goal of taking the program nationwide. Houston, Texas, home of the fourth-largest PSAP in the United States, has also implemented ASAP. Three monitoring companies—Vector Security, UCC and Monitronics—are currently participating in the program.

Hobgood said forwarding alarm notifications via ASAP involves the same decision-making process as before, but there are no phone calls to the PSAP and “no human being who is typing [the information] in.” That eliminates spelling mistakes, street address mistakes and misunderstandings caused by low-volume headsets and regional accents.

“You know what happens when an address number gets transposed and police are dispatched to the wrong address. Someone is going to get sued,” Hobgood said. “These types of mistakes are gone with ASAP.”

Richmond has logged more than 15,000 alarm calls under ASAP with no errors, he said. The protocol has also reduced call processing times to 15 seconds or less, which has led to faster emergency responses. Traditional question-and-answer processing by phone averages 1.5 to 3 minutes.

“[Police have] caught burglars and people in the process of a holdup,” Hobgood said. “It increases the likelihood of law enforcement apprehensions.”

To expand ASAP, the CSAA is building a central communications server at the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (Nlets) facility in Phoenix, Ariz. The server will be a “traffic cop” that will handle incoming alarm calls from monitoring companies, validate that each message meets minimum requirements, then send the message to the Nlets switch for forwarding to the correct PSAP via a state control point.

The Nlets system “should go live” in the next few weeks, according to Ed Bonifas, with Tempe, Ariz., scheduled to be the next city participating in the ASAP-to-PSAP program. He said the success of the protocol in Houston, which projects annual savings of $1 million to $2 million through the streamlining of services, will lead other cities to join.

“Nlets is key—it’s a highly secure network,” Bonifas said. “This project is 25 years in the making. It’s high time it was implemented [nationwide].”