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Houston Streamlines Security Alarm Notifications to its 911 Center

The Houston Emergency Center is piloting a new alarm notification system that eliminates calls between alarm monitoring companies and the center.

by / July 8, 2011

The Houston Emergency Center (HEC) implemented a new alert system to streamline the receipt of notifications for emergency dispatch from alarm monitoring companies.

The new computer-aided dispatch system, called the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP), eliminates the need for alarm monitoring companies to call the HEC about alarm notifications, according to HEC Director David Cutler.

When a security alarm in a home goes off, the alarm company is notified. At the company, a computer-aided dispatch event is created in the computer system, which directly transmits the alarm notification to police dispatchers. Previously when an alarm monitoring company’s call center received an alert of an alarm, a call taker at the center would call the HEC about the alarm, Cutler said.

“In the past, [alarm company call takers] would pick up the phone and call the police department and wait however many rings it would take to get a hold of a person and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been sitting on the phone for five minutes, but here’s the information,’” Cutler said.

Because the alarm companies that contact the HEC aren’t located in the Houston area, the calls don’t come through on the 911 line, but come through nonemergency lines, which would often delay the time it took for the call to be answered, he said.

ASAP was developed through a partnership between the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Association of Public‐Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International. As a result of the ASAP project, Houston is expected to save between $1 million to $2 million annually, according to the HEC.

The HEC is the fourth largest 911 public safety answering point in the nation and the first agency in Texas to implement the ASAP system.

Cutting the phone calls made from the companies to the HEC out of the process reduces miscommunication, Cutler said. In certain incidences, an incorrect address would be given to the HEC over the phone or numbers of an address would get transposed. Since the verbal communication between the alarm companies and the HEC is cut out of the process, first responders will be able to respond to a situation minutes faster than with the previous process.

“Because we are leveraging these call centers to actually be our call takers as opposed to them just passing the word to us and we do what they just did and send it to the dispatchers, they do it for us,” Cutler said.

Earlier this year, the HEC piloted the ASAP system with two alarm monitoring companies that are responsible for 35,000 alarm systems in Houston. Cutler said the two pilot alarm systems make up 10 percent of the HEC’s alarm call events in its computer-aided dispatch system.

But from May 2010 to May 2011, the HEC saw a 13 to 15 percent reduction in call volume to its nonemergency phone lines. Cutler said the reduction rate isn’t entirely attributable to the ASAP system, but nearly 8 to 10 percent of the reduction rate is attributable to the new system — a significant decrease for the HEC’s nearly 2,000 police alarm notifications per week.

According to the HEC’s press release, “Houston’s implementation of ASAP was conducted in concert with the CSAA being approved as an Nlets strategic partner organization. Nlets, the International Justice and Public Safety Network, links the majority of the nation’s 6,500 [public safety answering points] to international, federal and state criminal justice and public safety‐related databases.”

Bill Hobgood, the project coordinator for APCO and project manager for Richmond, Va.’s Department of Information Technology Public Safety Team, said because the CSAA is an approved Nlet strategic partner organization, more alarm companies and 911 call centers will implement ASAP systems in the future.

“When I was working with the people at Houston, they mentioned if Houston does it, others will be sure to follow,” Hobgood said.

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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