Problems with Monitoring Your Own Fire Alarms
By Andrew Erickson
December 24, 2022
Monitoring your own fire alarms is not without its challenges. Just like with almost everything else, there are pros and cons with the choice.
A central station may be "easier" (even though this may not truly mean "better")
A "central station" is the alarm monitoring industry's term for a third-party service that you hire to monitor fire alarms for you. Like everything, there are good aspects with this approach, and there are also problems. You'll find the right balance based on the scale and also the goals of your organization.
Reasons why a central station can be easier for you:
- You're accessing alarm industry expertise from a central station who serves (probably) thousands and thousands of customers.
- If you work at a smaller organization, the challenge of installing and then managing your own fire alarm monitoring system can be too much to justify.
- There's less equipment to evaluate and purchase when you choose a central station.
When you monitor your own alarms, everything is up to you.
Without a paid central station handling 100% of your alarms for you, it's all on you. It's up to you and your team to respond if an alarm goes off. No matter what time it is, and no matter where you are or what you're doing, you're responsible if you're on call. The burden of any false alarms is also yours to handle.
In one sense, this is empowering. You're taking back all of the control. You and only you will determine how much you protect the public from fires.
Of course, you also end up with a lot of responsibility when you take everything on your shoulders. Just be sure you have the right team in place and consult with experts before you decide to monitor your own alarms.
The initial equipment investment is higher to monitor your own fire alarms
The use of self-monitoring is more expensive when considering installation costs - and the ongoing maintenance requirements.
You need to buy some equipment, like Fire Alarm Control Panels (FACP), no matter how you choose to monitor alarms. This expense and work won't change based on your choice (although compatibility might require certain panels for certain choices).
Other equipment is only required when you monitor your own fire alarms. The biggest piece is your central "proprietary" alarm collection server. As an example, Digitize manufactures the Prism LX.
Just like any piece of gear, there is an expense for this. You also need future staff time to watch the display screen. That's a planned cost that you must estimate and compare with the ongoing fees you would otherwise pay to a central station.
Large organizations enjoy the control provided by monitoring fire alarms in-house. The expense is also easier for them to write off. It's very different to monitor 100 buildings vs. monitoring 3. Both jobs require a single central server that probably costs about the same.
The shopping process is more complex when monitoring by yourself
Any service provider, like a central station, also inherently provides expertise. You might not see it, but a wealth of experience is being brought to bear every time they provide service to you.
Because a central station has already installed its own infrastructure, those are not aspects you need to think about. You still need to buy per-building devices like detectors and pull handles and fire panels, but those are usually simpler choices. Your central station probably also has a list of recommendations. Some providers might even provide some amount of "turn key" equipment buying service that makes things even easier for you.
Now, all of the above assumes that you're approaching equipment buying in a simple "pick something and buy it" manner. Truthfully, that is pretty much what you face if you select based purely on price. You'll buy something cheap and not get much help from a sales team.
If you can broaden your focus to full-service equipment manufacturers, you'll find that buying equipment to monitor your own fire alarms is no longer overwhelming. That's because full-service providers tend to give you better pre-sale and post-sale support. They'll help you find the right equipment, anticipate problems, and plan your overall approach.
That's certainly how we built Digitize. Our goal is to operate at a reasonable overall price for you. "Overall price" also counts time you can save by not guessing in the dark. When it comes to alarm monitoring, the purchase price is only one component of your total cost of ownership.
Management might feel that alarm monitoring isn't your "core competency"
Management exists to minimize risk. Risk can feel lower when you contract a third-party who brings experience to the table.
There's truth in this, really. As fire alarm monitoring equipment manufacturers ourselves, I can tell you that plenty of people have come to Digitize after making major purchasing mistakes. In that sense, a central station does protect you against making a bad equipment choice.
Don't deny yourself the benefits of in-house alarm monitoring
It's your job to gently remind management of the balance to strike here. If you're a small organization or for any other reason cannot effectively run fire alarm monitoring yourself, a central station is better. If you can do the job yourself, however, you can't deny yourself the real benefits.
Monitoring alarms yourself, when done right, can make you more responsive to new alarms. This can lead to faster fire response that can ultimately save lives. If it's at all possible that you're in a position to do this yourself, you need to do the math and find out.
Use Digitize to evaluate all of your options
We're experts in fire alarm monitoring at Digitize. We're happy to help you talk over your possibilities before any project. We might end up helping you monitor your alarms with Digitize equipment. We might instead agree that a central station makes more sense for you.
Whatever we decide together, your next step is to call Digitize and get started. Call us at 1-800-523-7232 or email us at email@example.com
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