Review: Central Station for Fire Alarm Monitoring vs. In-House Monitoring

By Andrew Erickson

January 29, 2023

A central station for fire alarm monitoring is a monitored facility that provides 24/7 monitoring of fire alarm systems, smoke detectors, and other safety systems. The station is typically located away from the protected area (ex. your buildings) and staffed by trained professionals who can respond quickly to any alarms or alerts triggered by the system. By doing so, they help ensure that the fire department is notified in a timely manner and that personnel are safely evacuated from any potential hazards.

Central station monitoring also allows for continual maintenance, testing, and repair of the systems to ensure they remain in proper working order. With central station monitoring, you have reasonably firm assurance that your fire alarm system will always be functioning properly and alert the right first responders at the right time.

Central station or in-house monitoring?

A central station is one way to monitor your fire alarms. How does this compare to in-house monitoring?

How did we manage our fire alarms before there were central stations?

Just as with all aspects of telecommunications, there were once simpler times. If you go back about 60 years, you'll see that fire/police agencies would directly receive alarm notifications from businesses, college campuses, and other facilities. Even that was only true if the building(s) was significant enough to justify a remote alerting function.

Oddly enough, some of the systems that you might still use today were invented and deployed in this time. You saw "code wheel" transmitters that would tap out an automatic telegraph code for a box number when a pull box was pulled.

Now, telegraph is hardly the norm any more - and unheard of for new deployments. Still, our work here at Digitize frequently involves telegraph mediation when we're working with a large city or metro rail system.

Of course, the world is now too big to support such a quaint system of fire alarm monitoring. There now must be standard regulations and enforced best practices to ensure a uniformity of excellent safety.

The rise of centralized, uniform fire safety standards for central stations

As is usually the case with regulation, parties with a vested interest in building integrity were the first to push the issue. Insurance companies established their own standards for buildings that they would insure.

Eventually, this patchwork of company-specific rules of regulations coalesced into the modern NFPA code. Among every other aspect of fire safety for buildings, the NFPA code dictates many requirements for central stations.

It's also worth noting that central station monitoring is often a requirement for government-funded projects. For example, the federal government requires central station monitoring for all public buildings and certain other types of facilities.

This centralization of codes (even as they are slightly modified by your local AHJ or "Authority Having Jurisdiction") has led to a much higher degree of uniformity and improvement in central fire alarm monitoring.

Certification from an approved lab like UL is now a factor when selecting a central station

Once something becomes sufficiently standardized due to market forces, certification bodies will emerge to provide clarity for buyers.

In the case of central stations, UL 827 sets the "Standard for Central Station Alarm Services". Audits are available for companies wishing to maintain third-party certification of their competence via a certificate of compliance.

Are there alternatives to using a central station for your fire alarm monitoring?

Central stations handle a substantial number of the total fire alarms in our modern world. Still, there is a different path that many organizations choose: proprietary (in-house) fire alarm monitoring.

The NFPA and your local AHJ don't restrict you totally when it comes to monitoring your alarms. Their concern is simply that you comply with the overall safety requirements. You are afforded some flexibility in the fire code.

That's why you're allowed to effectively act as "your own central station" by running your own monitoring at your own facility.

If you've made purchasing decisions for your organization before, the dynamics here are going to feel very familiar. In short, doing it yourself makes more sense as you become larger. You get an economy of scale that begins to compete with a dedicated central station - and you don't have other customers competing for your attention.

The central station is far from obsolete in today's world. The NFPA code, UL certification, and regulations from your local AHJ ensure that central stations continue to provide a valuable public service.

At the same time, these regulations open up an alternative for larger organizations who can effectively monitor their own alarms without central station assistance from typical commercial alarm monitoring services. For those facilities, central station monitoring might not make sense.

Whatever your decision is, it's important that you stay informed of the most up-to-date regulations so you can ensure the safety of your employees and property and simultaneously avoid costly fines, penalties, and liability.

It's up to you to choose central station or proprietary (in-house) alarm monitoring

Remember: central stations still play an important role in fire safety by providing uniform standards and certification. However, larger facilities may have the resources to monitor their own alarms, which can be a more effective and cost-efficient alternative.

Furthermore, the alarm signal travels a much shorter path when it goes directly to your in-house monitoring room, saving precious seconds. That compares favorably with paying an external monitoring company to handled alarm events for you.

As an example, Digitize equipment is commonly used to satisfy monitoring system requirements for universities/colleges, cities, and military bases.

The Prism LX is the core of a typical system, then various other devices provide important mediation between existing equipment (which can be 20, 30, or 40+ years old) and the new central server.

Ultimately, you can use a central station for fire alarm monitoring or you can choose to monitor alarms yourself - as long as you comply with NFPA, UL, and local AHJ regulations. The choice is yours.

But don't forget to factor in all the true costs when assessing your options. Doing so will help you make a well-informed decision that meets all safety requirements while also being financially responsible.

Call Digitize to discuss remote monitoring of your fire alarms

Whether you have a small building or a large city to monitor, we're happy to speak with you here at Digitize. It's entirely possible that a central station will be the clear best choice for your particular scenario. This is more likely the smaller you are.

We have, however, see people in the past who significantly misinterpret the point at which proprietary fire alarm monitoring actually makes more sense, both financially and for life safety.

Give us a call and talk to an engineer to assess your options in 15 minutes. Call 1-800-523-7232. You can also email us at

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