The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) this week announced it is seeking comments on a candidate American National Standard that is designed to enable efficient data exchange between alarm-monitoring companies and public-safety answering points (PSAPs).

Currently, alarm-monitoring companies assess the nature of an alarm and, if appropriate, have an operator call a 911 center to verbally relay information about the situation—a scenario that can add delay to the process, as information often has to be repeated so a 911 call taker can enter it accurately into the PSAP’s computer-aided dispatch system. With the new data-exchange standard, the alarm-monitoring company can transmit its data directly into a PSAP’s CAD system, allowing dispatchers to deploy resources to the emergency more quickly, said Bill Hobgood, chairman of APCO’s data transfer committee, who described the capability as the “Holy Grail” for PSAPs and alarm-monitoring companies.

“[The CAD system] processes it as a call to service, just as if a call taker had keyed that information in—except, in this case, it takes a matter of seconds instead of two to three minutes,” Hobgood said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “If the CAD system validates it, it pops up in front a dispatcher for radio dispatch.”

By saving the data-entry time, response agencies can react to a situation more quickly, which can make a big difference in the outcome of an emergency incident, said Hobgood, who was part of a pilot program in the City of Richmond, Va., that used the proposed standard.

“If we can get police there two or three minutes faster, it increases the likelihood of apprehension,” he said. “Of course, from a medical standpoint, two or three minutes is going to save a bunch of lives.”

Other benefits to the exchange standard is that CAD systems will receive more accurate information, because the direct data transfer removes the possibility of a call taker mistyping or misunderstanding information from the alarm-monitoring company, Hobgood said.

In addition, PSAPs would benefit because the number of calls received would be reduced. Hobgood said that alarm-monitoring companies make about 32 million 911 calls per year to PSAPs nationwide, most of which could be eliminated by adoption of the data-exchange standard.

“We know that PSAPs everywhere are struggling to keep up with the call load in these days and times,” Hobgood said. “It’s hard to get additional resources with the economic conditions as they are—they’re having a tough time keeping the staff they’re authorized for now, much less trying to hire new people. What we’re trying to do is reduce the number of calls to a manageable level.”

While the data-exchange standard would allow alarm-monitoring companies to input data directly into a CAD system, the alarm-monitoring company still would be responsible for verifying the alarm and the CAD system would continue to validate the address before forwarding the information to a dispatcher, Hobgood said.

Interested parties can download the proposed standard at http://www.apcointl.org/new/commcenter911/ansi-activity.php. The deadline for comments is Dec. 22. If one or more significant issues are raised, additional 45-day comment periods could be established, Hobgood said. Otherwise, the proposal could become a standard in January, he said.