These are the Biggest Problems with Monitoring Fire Alarms with a Central Station

By Andrew Erickson

December 24, 2022

Central stations that monitor your fire alarms for you absolutely have a purpose. Like anything, however, there is a trade-off when you choose to pay a third party instead of doing something yourself.

Let's walk through some of the key problems you must consider. Some of them may not apply to certain situations, while others can be mitigated without much trouble or expense.

As you read each of the problems listed below, you'll learn how to make an informed choice for your company or agency.

A central station requires recurring fees that go on forever

If you want to continue to enjoy the services of a monitoring station, you'll need to pay for them on an ongoing basis.

There may also be additional costs involved in sending messages to personnel. It's common to think of text messages and push notifications as "free" services, but they can be one way that the central station scales its pricing model. Those fees could quickly add up if you're monitoring multiple locations or systems.

This contrasts with monitoring your own fire alarms using purchased in-house equipment, which is a "buy it once and own it forever" style of alarm monitoring.

The benefit of a central station is that your startup costs are much lower than with purchasing your own fire alarm monitoring server. The downside is that your "low monthly fee" may not feel so low years and years down the line.

Of course, it's possible and even probable that you'll see price increases down the line. As you know, it can be difficult to change course once you're already stuck within a provider's "ecosystem". That limits your options in the event of a price increase that you feel is unfair.

Time can be lost before you receive an alert

When alarms are sent from the central station to your personnel, time is lost. It takes time for the message to be received, processed, and then sent to you and your team. That could mean potential delays in critical situations.

If there's an issue with the central station not alerting personnel on time, it can be difficult to prove who is at fault. Technical problems also become difficult to fix quickly, as there are two different companies involved in the technical troubleshooting.

There's a further complication in the event of some kind of human error causing major injury or death. Suddenly, there are two players involved in the alarm response that might bear responsibility.

It's a good idea to review central station's claims about any guarantees or liability insurance here that may protect you. That's one way to limit your risk.

The central station may not always be reliable and may miss critical alarms

One of the biggest risks you take when relying on a third party monitoring service is its reliability. If the central station goes down or experiences other issues, your alarm systems won't be monitored and you could miss important events.

Now, that's almost a laughable comparison if you're a small company monitoring a few buildings. If you're a major military base, school campus, or city government, however, you might compare favorably to a busy central station you can't control.

In some cases, problems can even lead to false alarms being sent out. This can be a huge waste of time and resources, as well as create confusion for your personnel. Again, the size and capabilities of your organization matter here.

Think of how empowering it is whenever you have something done well entirely within your organization. There are no added complexities, and everyone involved is on the same team. That's an excellent goal that's within your grasp if your a medium-to-large organization with some technical expertise on your team (or at least people who can be trained).

If you have the resources to go this route, you should research options that allow you to effectively act as your own central station.

A central station may not have the ability to monitor advanced or legacy systems

Another key problem with relying on a third party monitoring service is that it may not be able to provide all of the features or flexibility you need. A certain monitoring station might offer basic alarm monitoring, but not something specialized that you already use or plan to use.

As technology advances, some fire alarm systems become more complex than the traditional ones that most monitoring stations are familiar with. If your system requires advanced features such as video surveillance or anything customized for your system, these may not be available through the monitoring station.

Even more likely, you might be running older legacy technologies like dialers and telegraphs that central stations have abandoned in favor of new tech like IP/LAN. In this case, you'll either need to monitor your alarms in-house or at least use some kind of adapter device that pipes legacy alarm data as IP to your central station.

The lack of specialized experience can also mean that a central station may not be able to properly service your system and provide accurate information when an alarm is triggered.

In rare but plausible cases, a monitoring station might even interfere with other systems in your facility or introduce security risks.

Central stations can be great in many situations if you understand and manage the drawbacks

Overall, a central station can be a great asset to have if you need your fire alarm system monitored. But it's important to understand the potential drawbacks before making the decision to hire one. Make sure you do your research and determine whether or not the monitoring service is right for you. By weighing up all of these factors, you can choose the best option for your specific needs.

Call Digitize to talk with an expert

At Digitize, fire alarm monitoring is the only thing we do. We have equipment that mediates alarm formats that you might use to send data to your central station. We also have servers you can install to perform "proprietary fire alarm monitoring" and act as your own central station.

As a result of our technical experience, we can guide you through the purchase decision between central station and in-house "proprietary" alarm monitoring.

Get started now by calling Digitize at 1-800-523-7232 or emailing 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 16 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More