Fire Alarm Panel Monitoring Overview

By Andrew Erickson

June 15, 2022

At Digitize, we've been building our product catalog for 45 years. Digitize has been in business since the 1970s within this industry.

The Prism LX is a multi-generational head-end product that has been in place for quite some time. It has a long track record of working well for many clients.As the world has changed and evolved, so have we.

We have focused consistently on the fire and security alarm monitoring sector, but even that relatively small niche has provided plenty of opportunity to build useful tools for you. There is a truly diverse array of FACPs (Fire Alarm Control Panels), so we've continually built new alarm monitoring systems to maintain broad compatibility for you.

Both directly and via our distributor network, we now serve clients in education, city/state/federal government, military, and a wide range of commercial industries.

Digitize Will Build to Suit Your Specs

Digitize has a history of being deployed in a client's network and tying into many different types of equipment. Not only do we tie into our standard products, we also adapt to the unique needs of a particular client like you.

Where another manufacturer might just say, "I only have these 3 offerings," Digitize will proactively ask you about tying in third-party equipment. We'll ask: "Do you want to receive these other alarms, too?"

By doing that, we end up being a complete package for you, instead of you needing multiple systems reporting at the same time. All of the information will come in on the same screen, and that's the only screen you have to worry about.

In the same way, sometimes we'll collect information on alarms, and you'll want to port that information to other systems you already have.

In that case, we'll meet with staff from whatever other company's equipment you're using, do the research required to talk to that other system, then engineer that into our Prism LX. That tends to make us stand out from other monitoring equipment.

As a result, we have built up a full family of products. There's not just one area we specialize. We have the DGMs that are able to tie and bring alarms in from fire panels. We have the telegraph system that ties in with the older monitoring of the telegraph panels on the street.

We have the Q Mux, which gives you a lot of capabilities to remote over a pair of wires. Q Mux is special because they're very small. You can drop multiple IDMs (remote modules) to pick up contacts and run controls up to 5000 feet from Q Node. The Q Node is the remote processor unit that interfaces directly back to the Prism. All of these are polled.

With the general Digitize philosophy now covered, let's take an overview of the major product categories we design and build…

Universal Alarm Monitoring System (System 3505 Prism LX)

This is a broad category, but it's really the only way to adequately describe our System 3505 (and the newer System 3505 Prism LX model).

These devices collect alarm conditions from a wide range of gear (Zone, Dialer, & Box). This is mostly via network now in 2022, although you can also use a range of modern and legacy communication methods. To complete your monitoring you'll be adding various cards and other devices to mediate everything into the System 3505.

Input channels supported by our universal alarm monitoring systems:

  • Multiplex
  • Telegraph/McCullough codes
  • Direct wire
  • Digital dialer
  • Network (LAN)
  • Polling radio
  • Serial input

Whenever an alarm happens, you'll know it. You'll hear an audible alarm. You'll be able to read our high-resolution color LCD display. You'll even get a permanent printed record on paper. Even as we've added the modern long-term digital logging you expect, there's still utility in something as straightforward as thermal tape.

Direct-wire inputs are an older technology but, if you work for a town/agency still has a number of them in place (and the phone company hasn't removed them yet), you're still going to want to monitor them. Eventually, you'll likely convert over to something more like a mesh radio input or a DGM panel.

We also have an interface to the AES radio that we call the Digitize Intellitize network. The receiver gets interfaced with the Prism LX. Remote radios go out in the field and form a mesh. This self-creates a network in the field that allows data to hop from a very distant site back to the head end.

Our System 3505 Prism LX was built precisely with single-ownership deployments in mind. That makes it the right choice for higher education, governments, military bases, large industrial facilities, and medium/large corporations.

Prism LX supports up to 2048 different zones (relay contacts) for direct-wire inputs. Formats include:

  • "End of Line" with a supervisory resistor on the end
  • "RPI (Reverse Polarity Input)" where the current switches from one direction to another when the alarm is activated

Redundant Fail-Over Architecture for Centralized Monitoring

Also, remember that Prisms can be networked with other Prisms. You can choose which types of alarms come through on which Prism.

So, imagine I have one in the Fire Department and one in the Police Department and another at the Service Manager's desk. A fire alarm might initially come into the Fire Department.

The dispatcher, who might be part of the fire response team, could hit a button to forward future fire alarms to the Police Department for the duration of the incident. That way, there would also be someone to field new alarms that arrive.

If there are things going on in the field, and a Mux Pad goes down somewhere, the Prism LX units could be configured so that any kind of a trouble signal could be forwarded to the Service/Maintenance Manager's desk.

The Fire Department wouldn't see it, because they don't really care about that. The Maintenance Manager would want to see it, because there must be a work order to send someone out there to correct whatever problem exists out at the panel.

For Prisms, we also have a redundant system that uses a T-bar relay with 48 sets of contacts. This allows an "Upper" and "Lower" system to operate in a redundant pair. The offline system monitors the online system, then takes control in the event of a detected failure.

It's mandatory for you to maintain monitoring of your fire-alarm system 24 hours a day, so you can automatically be online with your backup system while you're troubleshooting the offlined Prism LX unit.

When the supervising system goes down, they have to put people in each of the buildings as fire monitors. It's boring. It's not an exciting thing, and it's expensive.

Multiplex System

Our Multiplex System lets you run multiple multiplex panel in any combination. Communication can be via fiber, audio modem, dedicated (dry) cables, radio, LAN, or a wireless mesh network.

As an example of this device type, our Muxpad II will allow you to bring different manufacturers' addressable control panels into our single monitoring system.

Q-Mux is similar in concept, but instead powers IDM sensor modules. Data is returned as voltage (0 to 10 VDC).

There are just a few technical limits, however. Remember that the DGM Multiplex system is not compatible when on the same line as a Q-Mux multiplex system. We'll need to keep this in mind when we're planning your monitoring strategy together.

There's also a card rack of line drivers that connects to the Prism LX. So, when you're tying in DGM panels, Mux Pads, and other remote RTU devices, you can have some DGMS coming in via radio and others from fiber or other things. You can then mix them all together into one input on the Prism LX.

The Mux Pads can connect to quite a list of existing fire panels from such companies as Simplex, SEI, Notifier, Gamewell, EST, Spectronics, Firecomm - all of the popular fire panels.

Occasionally, clients will ask whether we can support another brand of fire panel. We'll find out what their format is, then add that to the program capability of the Mux Pad II.

One of the things currently being worked on is a universal format for the Mux Pad, which allows the user to define what input formats are coming from a fire panel in the field. This would streamline our capability of adding additional new panels to our list of supported fire panels.

This is simply the defining of text-parsing rules for a device, since we usually connect to the printer output of a panel via RS232. This outputs data about whatever is happening in that panel.

The Mux Pad will use the pre-defined rules to parse out the alarm data.

In the new "universal format", the data will be passed directly to the Prism LX for centralized parsing. That way, you only have to make the program at the head end. The remote Mux Pad units in the field never need an update.

This way, if something isn't parsed correctly, it can be monitored and corrected from the head end without going out into the field and re-testing. By eliminating all of that, it makes it easier for our clients to upgrade their configuration.

Telegraph Interfaces (& many others)

When necessary, we can even support such "classic" communication interfaces as telegraph. Alarms are transmitted via coded alarm wires.

Telegraph is an old technology but, if you're in a town that already has telegraph, you can monitor old technology and marry it in with all of our new technology like Mux Pads and DGM panels.

No adjustment is needed, and you'll get automatic index detection. The correct Box Number will be resolved using either the municipal box standard (1:2.5:6.25) or the central box standard (1:3:9).

If you have repeating box numbers on multiple circuits, the telegraph interface can also be configured to prepend a circuit number ("CKT#") to the front of the text description.

While we offer many other interface options, you've now seen several of the most common. For a complete list of options, dig deeper into our website or contact your Digitize sales rep.

NFPA-1221-Compliant Radio Boxes

We build radio fire alarm boxes rated for both interior and exterior installation.

The transmitter will broadcast a pulled fire alarm on either the standard 72-26 MHz range or, for government, the alternative 138-148 MHz. The system can detect ground for both sides of every zone with its built-in circuitry.

As required by NFPA 1221, you get an included 12-volt battery (lead-acid, maintenance-free) and charging circuit. Power is provided for an estimated 6 months without any outside power source at all.

We've also designed our radio boxes with universal red "cottage" styling. Aside from the "Digitize" insignia (and high reliability), you might not even know that this is a Digitize-manufactured device. If you're in the middle of a fire emergency, you won't have to struggle to use this radio box.

Alarm Output Display Panels & SMS Text-to-Cell

There's nothing worse than being stuck at one alarm monitoring console all day - except maybe missing an important alarm.

If you want staff at various locations to have easy access to your central System 3505 Prism LX alarm reporting, use one of our alarm displays.

The Remote Annunciator device allows you to monitor system information from places like guard huts or security stations. You can also add paper printing capability if you like that format.

For the ultimate in location-agnostic monitoring, you can add our SMS Text-to-Cell system. That will send SMS text messages to your staff anywhere within cell range.

NIST-certified (DCID 6/9) High-Security Encrypted Alarm Monitoring

If you have a SCIF or other secure facility, you likely need to comply with NIST standards for security. Our Desplex products offer "Class A" digital line supervision aimed at satisfying exactly this requirement.

Desplex uses 128-bit encryption, which is impractical to brute-force guess. There are 340 trillion trillion trillion trillion (you read that right) possible key combinations. This is a highly secure method of encryption.

Graphical Alarm Monitoring Interface

Your network can generate a lot of alarm data. The more monitoring points you add, the more data you can get.

But that's not really helpful on its own. Your team needs clear information to react properly to every incident.

A clean, graphical interface goes a long way toward building real situational awareness. You and your team will be able to swiftly ignore what does not matter, adding focus instead to emergencies that require a rapid response.

Our CGRMS system (Computer Graphics Response Management System) ties together alarm logging & reporting, graphical summary displays, and CCTV recording & control. You'll run it on a standard Microsoft Windows workstation.

CGRMS has a price that scales to the size of your monitored network. That way, you don't have to pay for more coverage than you need. This makes CGRMS economical for small and medium networks.

Call me to discuss your remote monitoring project

No matter what you want to remotely monitor, please just get in touch with me. I'll walk you through it, even if that means a minor modification to create a perfect fit for your requirements.

Remember that our recent deal with DPS Telecom gives us even more flexibility to build the exact system you need.

Call me at 973-663-1011

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