Today, alarm companies must notify their local 911 public safety answering point (PSAP) by phone when one of their client's security systems is activated, an arrangement that leads to more work for 911 operators and slower responses to the alarms. However, a new external alarm interface exchange, jointly developed by Richmond and York County, Va., automatically sends alarm information to the PSAP without the time-consuming phone calls, and the project has set a new national standard for other jurisdictions to follow.

The city and county began developing the system in 2004 and in 2006 began a pilot program, which was completed at the beginning of 2009 and involved both governments' emergency communications departments and local security companies. Under the old system, alarm companies were required to call the PSAP on a non-emergency number, meaning they were often left on hold for several minutes while dispatchers handled 911 phone calls. Miscommunications between the alarm company and the PSAP operator also led to delays and mistakes.

Operating from a concept conceived by the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the Vienna, Va.-based Central Station Alarm Association, the Richmond Department of Information Technology worked with alarm companies to create software that uploads information from an alarm system directly into the PSAP's computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. With the new system, the alarm call appears in the dispatcher's CAD workstation as a new pending call-for-service.

Since implementation, the exchange project has resulted in more than 7,000 fewer telephone calls to the city and county's 911 centers. The time required to process each of the alarm events has been reduced from an average of two to three minutes to less than 15 seconds.

In January, the Washington-based American National Standards Institute (ANSI) adopted a new standard based on the system entitled APCO/CSAA 2.101.1-2008 ANS Alarm Monitoring Company to PSAP CAD External Alarm Interface Exchange. APCO also has adopted the standard.

Richmond Population: 202,002; York County Population: 61,027

Project: External Alarm Interface Exchange

Cost: $23,140

Date completed: January 2009

Agencies/contractors: Richmond Department of Information Technology and Police Department Division of Emergency Communications; York County Division of Emergency Communications; Virginia State Police; Vector Security; GE Security; Intergraph Corp.; Association of Public Safety Communications Officials; IJIS Institute; Nlets; Central Station Alarm Association; Waterhole Software

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