Your Guide to FACP Monitoring

By Andrew Erickson

July 16, 2022

How to Monitor Your FACP (Fire Alarm Control Panels)

No matter what location you're responsible for, you need also manage fire alarms to protect life safety. That involves FACP monitoring.

What type of facility do you manage?

If you’re responsible for FACP, you’re also responsible for high-quality monitoring

It is absolutely critical (and mandated by law and regulations of whatever authority having jurisdiction) that you effectively monitor your fire alarm control panels (alternate name: fire alarm control unit). A fire alarm that is left unmonitored isn’t much more than a siren (and maybe some flashing lights).

You must ensure that the electrical signal from a fire alarm, whether a pull box or an automated sensor or other specific device of some kind, reaches a central monitoring station.

The detected alarm condition naturally travels from the origin point to the FACP, but that’s just the first stop. The FACP must then send a signal back to a monitoring center, whether that’s one that you manage yourself ("proprietary" or "in-house") or a third-party service that you pay.

Your big choice: Monitor your facility fire alarms in-house or with a third-party service

As with almost anything these days, there’s a push toward centralized services with recurring revenue. You can get solid results, especially if you choose a costlier company that can afford to offer quality and reliability. The downside, of course, is that you have to write checks on a recurring basis (usually monthly or annually) that go on forever.

As a wave of retirements sweeps across everything in tech, your city, campus, base, or other facility is likely to have a smaller and younger team. Because any new generation of workers has different opinions and skills from the previous one, this creates a shift in preferences.

I’ve seen younger employees at all sorts of organizations prefer outsourcing work - even if it could be effectively done in-house at a much lower expense. Their reasons are not entirely misguided, but are often overblown.

Common myths about why you "need" third-party FACP monitoring:

  1. "That’s the way we’ve always done it."
  2. "Our core competency isn’t FACP monitoring. It’s more efficient to outsource that."
  3. "Our new team doesn’t have the right education and training to monitor our FACPs."

I’ve seen it over and over again: you can save a tremendous amount of long-term budget dollars by defeating these myths and monitoring your FACPs yourself. It’s not that hard.

The truth about monitoring your fire alarm control panels in-house:

  1. No matter what you’ve done before, something better and cheaper is still better and cheaper. You can start saving money now with a short ROI period, and keep saving forever.
  2. Efficiency in the short term is often inefficient in the long term. Yes, any single monthly fee is going to be less than an investment in your own fire alarm monitoring hardware. Pretty soon, however, recurring monthly fees will meet and exceed the one-time investment you could have made.
  3. It’s true that your new staff comes on board with different education and attitudes. Unless you’ve been hiring totally inflexible and disagreeable people (which is never as true as you might fear), you can teach people to use in-house monitoring. Everyone can learn new things, and it’s essential when you want to move forward and reduce budget expenditures. Remember, also, that relatively simple issues like common false alarms are harder to manage with an extra degree of separation. In my experience, distractions like this are much easier to manage when you control the core of your alarm monitoring system yourself.

What does FACP monitoring architecture look like?

As I mentioned earlier, there are three conceptual levels involved when you’re monitoring fire alarm control panels.

A smoke detector or a manual pull station is the first category: "alarm devices". You'll have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of these in any typical fire alarm system. The scope varies based on the size of your overall facility.

The next level up in the hierarchy is the fire alarm control panel/unit. All modern fire protection systems have this as a local collection point for emergency responders. In a typical campus, each large building might have its own FACP. Alternatively, a small cluster of buildings might be covered by a single unit.

The power source for a fire panel is typically redundant. This makes perfect sense for any life-safety system.

For system installations that include in-house fire alarm monitoring, there's obviously one additional component: a central server of some kind to aggregate FACP alarm & trouble conditions on a single screen. This is the launch point for dispatch. First responders will be directed to a particular building/area, and they can then consult the local FACP light board to get more detailed information. That is, of course, they've chosen to install...

Addressable fire alarm systems deliver more detail more immediately

In the architecture I described above, you'll notice that each fire panel can only tell the central monitoring station (whether in-house or third-party) about alarms in a binary way. It might cover alarm pull stations and sensors on multiple floors of a building. What it will lack, however, is the ability to report which device connected actually triggered an alarm state.

This type of non-addressable "conventional panels" is functional, but has been superseded by addressable panels in the modern era. Instead of first responders having to consult the local alarm display (usually simple lights indicating the initiating device location), dispatch will be able to provide very specific direction immediately.

With addressable FACP, you'll know from the very first alert which component of the fire alarm system has been tripped. This saves critical seconds when lives are on the line.

One obvious exception to the need for addressing is in small buildings with a dedicated fire alarm panel, where any fire is adequately summarized by the building location itself. In this case, fire teams will need no additional information to pinpoint where to go.

Call me to discuss your FACP monitoring goals

The law (and a simple care for human life) requires fire alarm monitoring. It's your job to make sure that the underlying technology is properly designed and operating flawlessly 7x24x365.

That's what makes it so important to talk to an expert about your unique project requirements. You can talk over your goals and specific challenges. We'll come up with a solution together that suits you.

I know a fair bit about alarm monitoring on my own. We can get started together. If necessary, I also have access to Digitize engineers with decades of experience.

Give me a call at 1-800-523-7232 or email me 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 15 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...