March 12, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Bureaucracy faced a blow recently that could save lives. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) announced the approval of a national standard enabling alarm companies to automatically transmit alerts to 911 centers. Alarm vendors typically place a phone call to 911 centers when an alert sounds.
An automated standard could eliminate 32 million of these calls nationally, erasing minutes of processing time 911 call-takers need for obtaining information from alarm company operators, explained Bill Hobgood, public safety team project manager of the Richmond, Va., Department of IT. He led pilot testing of the standard in Richmond, which eliminated 5,000 calls during its two-year time span.
"That means police, fire and emergency medical services will get to the scene of an emergency two and a half to three minutes faster," Hobgood said.
Roughly 90 percent of the alarm alerts an alarm company receives never make it to 911 centers, explained Pamela Petrow, chief operating officer of Vector Security Inc., the alarm company that participated in Richmond's pilot. Phone call follow-up authentications reveal most alarms to be false. Under the new standard, once an alarm company determines an alert to be legitimate, alarm monitoring software transmits the alert to the appropriate 911 center, which then routes it to the local police, fire or emergency medical services computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system.
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