Coming Soon: The 'Holy Grail' of Central Station Communications

CSAA and APCO and industry vendors partner to develop new digital communications standard for alarm reporting

"Chief, we're at 103 Rockhaven Boulevard West and there's no fire."

It's the kind of situation that happens from time to time – miscommunications between public service answering points (PSAPs) and central station staff members can lead to mis-directed emergency responses. While the results aren't often disasterous, it's always been one of those issues that's made the industry scratch its head and wonder, 'What if we could do this all electronically and eliminate the errors?"

Soon, it seems, that will be the case. In what may be one of the most long-awaited offerings for the central station alarm monitoring industry, the alarm data will soon be able to be sent electronically from the central station to the jurisdiction's PSAP thanks to a partnership between the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International(APCO).

The electronic transfer of the alarm data, attempted before with programs like the SANTA system which saw limited success, has always been the dream of alarm communications according to Steve Doyle, the executive vice president of the Central Station Alarm Association.

"There's always been a need for this," explains Doyle. "When a central station calls a PSAP, someone has to read the info about the premises and events and the person on the other end has to type this into their system. That can take between 2 and 5 minutes, and it's possible that info may be transposed, that 3rd St. could become 33rd St. The holy grail has always been if they could electronically send this info over just by hitting a button."

And while the technology isn't quite here yet, it's certainly well on its way.

The latest news is that the CSAA and the APCO have jointly agreed to create a standard for these digital communications. According to Ed Bonifas of Illinois' Alarm Detection Systems, the project has been in the works for some time, and now that testing has been done jointly by some companies and PSAPs, this standardized technology (known officially as the "APCO standard for alarm data exchange") isn't too far from hitting the streets. The standard pulls together not only the CSAA and the APCO, but uses the input from software developers GE, Bold, DICE and MicroKey.

The collaboration started when the CSAA was able to get involved with the APCO's Project 36, a project which had as its goal the creation of a standard interface to allow communications between computer-aided dispatch centers (CADs).

"The problem for them was that if a car chase was happening, the dispatch centers would actually have to manually pick up the phone and alert the next city or county to pass along the details because a lot of the communications systems weren't compatible," explains Ed Bonifas, whose company, Alarm Detection Systems Inc., is a full-service dealer/monitoring provider with 25,000 accounts doing $25 million in sales a year.

Bonifas added that the initiative to create a system where PSAPs could communicate freely was the perfect launching point for bringing the alarm industry into the picture as well. And partnering with the APCO project also will mean a higher rate of implementation once the standard is finalized, says Bonifas.

"The challenge on implementation isn't going to be on the alarm industry side since there are only a handful of software companies (such as GE, Bold, DICE, etc.) that have to put this in," says Bonifas.

The challenge, instead, will be at the PSAPs, which aren't profit-driven entities. Some will do it right away, he says, but for other PSAPs, depending on the software and computer hardware systems they use, the implementation time might be longer.

Doyle agrees.

"I know there's going to be tremendous buy-in from the central stations; company owners want to limit liability exposure because of mis-delivered information," says Doyle. "And once the PSAPs realize that APCO is behind it, then the cities will be demanding it."

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