Purchase Guide: First System Monitoring using Modern Tech

By Andrew Erickson

December 4, 2022

You probably know that you're mandated to monitor the fire alarm in any large building.

While you don't have a choice in whether you're going to monitor your fire system, you do get to choose what system or service you're going to buy.

Let's review the actual requirements involved, as well as the best ways to tackle them.

What are the legal requirements (NFPA fire codes) to monitor your fire system?

This is an important question to consider when selecting the right fire system monitoring for your property. Although the exact details vary within the USA by state and county/city, there are broad similarities no matter where your building is located.

There are generally rules for the density of initiating devices (pull handles, smoke detectors, etc.) in each room and hallway. The number of initiating devices directly impacts the size of the Fire Alarm Control Panels (FACP) that you'll need to install.

NFPA logo

The NFPA fire codes describe what you must do to build an effective and legal fire alarm system.

You're also required to monitor the system in some way, whether via a central server that you operate yourself or some kind of third-party paid "central station" service.

Knowing and understanding the precise NFPA fire codes that apply to your building or property is essential when choosing a fire system monitoring plan. Make sure you understand the regulations and requirements before you make any purchasing decision. There are usually multiple ways to satisfy the various code requirements.

The best way to do this is to call an expert in fire alarm monitoring. That's why Digitize keeps engineers on standby for you to call at our New Jersey headquarters (1-800-523-7232). We've been doing this for a long time, and we've pretty much seen it all.

Of course, I actively write about NFPA codes here on the website, but it's usually faster for you to simple call Digitize and ask specific questions.

Do I need a central station, or can I monitor my own system?

Perhaps the most significant decision you have to make in modern fire monitoring is whether or not you'll use a third-party service.

In the earliest fire alarm systems, there was no question that you'd be monitoring your own system locally. Telecommunications simply didn't exist to allow for anything else.

Today, there are many monitoring services that charge a recurring fee and promise to monitor your fire alarms 7x24x365. These can be particularly useful if you're managing a small set of buildings, where you really can't justify the expense of a full-time monitoring center.

Monitoring your own system, which is absolutely allowed under NFPA rules, becomes the preferred option for medium and large college campuses, military basis, city governments, and other similar facilities. In these cases, the benefit of total control outweighs the expense of initial setup for your monitoring center. You also avoid a large recurring fee paid to a third-party service.

Are phone lines still required as a backup reporting method?

Phone lines were common for decades in the fire alarm monitoring space. They still are, although the challenge now is to reliably secure a traditional landline phone at a reasonable price.

Tech support is worth the (sometimes) higher price

You're busy. I'm guessing that, since you're reading this guide, fire system monitoring is just one of about twenty job responsibilities for you.

Think about how you're going to deal with inevitable problems and confusion that crop up during any new system install, or even routine use. Do you want to wrestle all day with a confusing user manual, or do you want someone you can call?

Both central stations and proprietary equipment manufacturers are on both sides of this issue. Some are "full service" with great tech support, while others try to cut costs and (maybe) pass some reasonable savings on to you.

Again, you'll find that the right answer here depends on the scale of your organization. If you have just a few buildings, the odds of a big technical issue and the time spent recovering are both likely pretty small. You can probably afford to save some pennies here.

On the other hand, tech support is absolutely crucial for large military or municipal systems. You are definitely going to have some number of significant technical issues to resolve. You want someone who you can call whenever you need help.

At Digitize, we've chosen to err on the side of "full service tech support" so that we can effectively serve government, military, and education clients. There's really just no other way that makes sense for fire systems of that scale.

How much should I pay for fire system monitoring?

Make sure to compare prices to find the best fire system monitoring plan for your budget. There are many different types of fire system monitoring services available, and each one has its own set of features and benefits.

Really, nearly everything depends on the size of your system. If you have just a few buildings, paying a central station can be the better option. In effect, the cost of a national accredited central station is being spread out across many customers.

If you have a larger facility, it's certainly possible to also use a paid central station. You'll probably be looking at a fee of thousands of dollar per month, and that will obviously continue forever. The alternative is to invest in a central server, which might costs tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, this equipment expense is a one-time purchase (at least for the 10-to-15-year lifespan of a quality system).

Call Digitize to discuss your fire system monitoring project

The best way to start your project off on the right foot is to talk with an expert on fire system monitoring. That cuts out all of the time you'd spending guessing as you shop around for options.

You're the only person qualified to make a decision for your company or agency. That doesn't mean you can't save a tremendous amount of time by talking to an engineer to get your bearings.

Talk to Digitize today by calling 1-800-523-7232 or email us at info@digitize-inc.com

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More