Richmond, Virginia, Department of IT's Bill Hobgood Discusses Nationwide Alarm Standards

Richmond lets local 911 centers get automatic alerts from alarm companies.

by / February 2, 2009

Photo: Bill Hobgood, Public Safety Team project manager of the Richmond Department of IT

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials is considering adopting a technology standard, established in Richmond, Va., that lets alarm companies automatically transmit alerts to local 911 centers. Alarm companies typically call 911 centers when an alarm is triggered. Richmond's Public Safety Data Interoperability Project - involving one alarm company and two 911 centers - eliminated 5,000 calls during a two-year pilot. Richmond is making the standard a law for its 911 centers. Bill Hobgood, Public Safety Team project manager of the Richmond Department of IT, explains the project.

How does this standard directly benefit first responders?
One benefit is to eliminate [in the U.S.] up to 32 million telephone calls from alarm companies to 911 public safety answering points (PSAP). Another benefit is eliminating two to three minutes of processing time that it traditionally takes for a call taker to take the information from the alarm company operator. That means police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) will arrive at an emergency two and a half to three minutes faster. That will increase the likelihood of police apprehension. It increases the chances that fires will be extinguished faster. Of course, a bunch of lives will be saved from an EMS standpoint.

How will alarm companies using various computer systems tap into the 911-center system?

The standard is XML-based. A complete package has been laid out for all of them. The software providers have provided software for the alarm companies. For vendors that are providing computer-aided dispatch systems for the PSAPs, the document is being laid out to help them accomplish this. If it becomes an adopted standard, they shouldn't have any problem.


Video: Features Editor Andy Opsahl discusses 911 routing plans with Bill Hobgood of Richmond, Va.

What alarm company participated in the pilot?

Vector Security. It just so happens that its chief operating officer [Pamela Petrow] is also on the executive board for the Central Station Alarm Association, which represents hundreds of alarm companies across the nation.

Will this standard enable 911 centers to operate with fewer employees?

We're not proposing any reduction in 911-center staff. The problem today is there's a de facto standard for call centers nationwide that all calls must be answered in 10 seconds or less. 911 centers are not meeting that because the volume of calls is increasing, yet their staff level has remained the same. They can't afford additional people, or they're having so much employee turnover that they're just keeping their heads above water. We want to make sure these 911 call-takers are charged with a manageable level of calls and have more time to spend on the true emergencies.


On Jan. 26, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials approved the American National Standard that enables alarm companies to transmit alerts to 911 centers automatically.


Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.