Fire Alarm Panel Monitoring Guide

By Andrew Erickson

February 12, 2023

Monitoring fire alarm panels is an essential part of fire safety on any premises. It allows for early detection of a potential fire, automated responses, and dispatch of first responders and other emergency services.

In this introductory guide, we'll take a look at some of the major decisions you need to make after being tasked with deciding how to set up fire alarm panel monitoring within your organization. This guide will also help you understand how their fire alarm panel monitoring software works and why it's an ideal choice for military bases, college campuses, and cities and other municipalities.

How does your fire panel monitor its local area for fires and other trouble?

Fire alarm panels are connected to a series of fire sensors and devices across your premises. As these detect changes in temperature, smoke levels, or other signs of a potential fire, they send this data to the panel.

These "initiating devices" carry data back to your fire panel in a variety of ways. The most common is the simple contact closure (electricity either flows or it does not). The wiring for this traditional setup contains a "termination resistor" at the device end of the wires. That allows a very small electrical flow on a routine basis. When your fire panel sees that small flow, it knows that the wires are intact.

If your wires get cut, you'll get a "trouble" indication that is typically a yellow light. That way, you know that you probably don't have a fire condition, but that you do need to promptly investigate and fix your broken wires. Until you do, you can't properly detect a fire condition.

At a technical level, what happens when there is an actual fire alarm condition?

So, what happens when there is actually an alarm condition like excessive smoke or heat? At this point, your initiating device (ex. smoke detector) will "latch" a simple electrical relay. This is the same component that you have likely heard making a small "click" in your home thermostat. In essence, a small metal drawbridge has now lowered to allow electricity to flow between your alarm wires.

This change is detected by your fire panel as a large relative increase in the electrical flow. Suddenly, your fire panel knows that there is an alarm condition.

As you can see, the magic of "the path of least electrical resistance" allows us to squeeze three possible conditions (OK, Trouble, and Alarm) into a pair of wires that would normally only be capable of two.

It's through the simple electrical concepts above that your fire panel is aware of its attached sensors. It is then ready to inform you that you have a specific fire alarm or system fault.

Once your fire panel "knows" there is a problem, how can it go about warning you so you can respond?

How do fire alarm panels output data for monitoring?

As you now know, your fire panel constantly reads the status of all of its connected devices.

Once this happens, the panel interprets this raw data and sends it out through an industry-standard protocol such as LonWorks or BACnet.

LonWorks is an open-source system designed to enable “smart” communication between fire alarm systems, while BACnet is a more vendor-specific protocol. Both protocols allow for the transfer of detailed fire alarm data from the panel to monitoring software that resides on your organization's server or in the cloud.

Once this data is received by your central fire monitoring system, you can use it to monitor fire alarm systems in real-time and respond quickly when an alarm is triggered.

With those fundamentals out of the way, how do you actually remotely monitor dozens or even hundreds of fire panels from one central location? When you're choosing a system to monitor your fire alarm panels, you have two main options: one-time server purchases or recurring payments to a third-party central station. The best option depends on your budget, as well as the size and type of your premises...

Understand the difference between "proprietary" and "central station" fire alarm panel monitoring

Proprietary fire panel monitoring is accomplished by making a one-time server purchase. This is distinct from central-station monitoring, in which you pay a recurring fee to a third party for monitoring services.

Digitize equipment offers comprehensive options for fire panel monitoring. Digitize's fire alarm panel monitoring hardware+software appliances provide real-time data of your fire panel system, which is essential for adequate fire protection.

Digitize software can detect the exact location of a potential fire and give you the fast information you need to activate emergency services. This allows for rapid response times, providing firefighters with detailed information about the situation and helping them to arrive on scene quickly and effectively. This is one effective way of meeting your obligations under the NFPA fire codes.

After dispatch and once they have arrived on site, any fire panel will have local display of system status so that firefighters can take immediate action if needed.

Central station monitoring puts your data and alarm dispatch in the hands of a third party

For better or worse (and there are situations for each), using a third-party central station to handle alarm data from your fire panels takes responsibility out of your hands. Instead of handling everything yourself, a command center (often in another region), will be the first group to see a new fire alarm in your building.

This can actually be the right approach for small operations where you only have one or a few small buildings. You can't really justify setting up a 7x24x365 dedicated monitoring center for such a small number of alarm points.

The bigger you get, the less this becomes true. If you're a military base (army, navy, air force, etc.) or university campus or city government, you likely do have the scale to do this yourself. By purchasing a straightforward centralized fire panel monitoring system, you can take charge of your fire alarms and reduce the number of steps required before emergency services are dispatched. You will also get to customize your alarm response to suit your specific requirements.

Digitize is available to help you with your fire panel monitoring

This topic is actually our specialty at Digitize. Our systems for the backbone of many large-scale fire alarm monitoring systems. As you can imagine, that has kept our Engineering team busy creating support for most of the industry-standard fire alarm panels.

As a result, we have a broad background of knowledge that we can share with you if you have an active project or something planned on the horizon. As a full-service company, we lean forward into helping you - whether or not you expect to buy from Digitize now (or ever!). It's through working on semi-custom projects that we expand our product catalog, so we're always happy to speak with you.

For help with your fire panel monitoring system project, call Digitize at 1-800-523-7232 or email

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