Hot Seat: Fledgling ASAP Program Showing Promise
The much anticipated message broker server managed by the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) went live in April 2012 in Richmond, Va. The achievement resulted from a concerted effort of many, including the city of Richmond and Vector Security, two of the three original Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP) pilot participants. Bill Hobgood, an IT authority for Richmond, joins the conversation to discuss the progress of the ASAP program.
How does ASAP enhance public safety?
The ASAP program is designed to facilitate an exchange between an alarm monitoring central station and a 911 public safety answering point [PSAP]. That process has traditionally been accomplished using a telephone call, initiated by the central station operator to the 911 PSAP. Once the call is answered it can take anywhere from a minute-and-a-half to three minutes to relay information between the central station operator and the 911 call-taker. There is a question-and-answer period to ask specific questions about the location of the alarm and other questions that will help to identify for public-safety responders how to investigate the alarm.
What ASAP does is take that telephone call out of the picture completely. It is an electronic exchange that has been created through automation between the alarm industry computer systems and the 911 PSAPs. The data is sent electronically from the central station to the 911 PSAP through the automation that the central station uses to the computer-aided dispatch [CAD] system.
Effectively, this has taken away the human conversation that sometimes is prone to miscommunication and mistakes, and instead it’s all automated. The data comes into the CAD system at the 911 PSAP as one message. It is processed as a call for service and appears in front of a radio dispatcher within a matter of seconds. What happens is we reduce the 911 processing time and as a result response times are reduced so that we can get first responders on the scene much more quickly.
What is the process to migrate a central station to the ASAP program?
All of the automation providers for central stations have a solution today. That is good news because when an alarm monitoring company is ready to join up, chances are the automation that they already use will already have a solution in place. Then what will happen is the monitoring company will submit a contract with the CSAA. They will be scheduled to come onboard once the contract is reviewed and approved. They will begin to work with the CSAA to establish a VPN connection to a message broker that is managed by the CSAA. The first organization that they will test with will be with us here at the city of Richmond, which we are very proud of. We tend to be the subject matter experts on the PSAP side to determine if transmissions are good or not. When they are not we help to identify what the problem is for the monitoring company.
Has the process become easier since it first came online in 2012?
Things are starting to get easier now that we have the first few alarm companies onboard along with their automation providers. For example, Vector Security uses MASterMind. So, for the next alarm company to join that uses MASterMind things should look the same at the PSAP level. The monitoring companies will have to make sure that they work with their automation provider and are up-to-date with the current release of the ASAP solution. Sometimes for the larger companies that may require some work; for smaller companies, maybe a little less work. All in all, it is a great feeling to know that all of the automation providers do have a solution in place that has been tested with the city of Richmond.
What are the main connectivity challenges?
There is nationwide message switch called Nlets — International Justice and Public Safety Network. They are based in Phoenix, which happens to be where the CSAA message switch is located. Nlets is connected to all 50 states and beyond, including Canada, Guam and a few other places. They connect to a state controlled point in each state. Each state control point connects the PSAPs. One of the hurdles is not all PSAPs in every state are connected to the state control point. Traditionally, the state control points have been a criminal justice type of mechanism where you have PSAPs that provide service and dispatch police and sheriff, etc.
Today, many PSAPs dispatch not only law enforcement but also fire and EMS. But because they do have some involvement with law enforcement, then they probably have connectivity to the state control point. The PSAPs that do not have any involvement with law enforcement can be the ones that encounter problems getting connected to the state control point. In the states that still will only provide service to law enforcement communication centers, we do need to look toward another solution in those states. There are discussions with at least a couple of vendors about how they may be able to facilitate tying the PSAPs together that would not qualify for a connection to the state control point.
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