Buying Fire Alarm Equipment for Your City, Campus, or Base

By Andrew Erickson

December 9, 2022

Fire alarm equipment is a core element in any fire safety plan. This equipment allows for early detection and notification of a fire, enabling building occupants to safely evacuate or take shelter. Alarm equipment can be tailored to meet the specific needs of different types of facilities such as cities, campuses, and military installations.

City governments and other municipalities monitor fire alarms for resident safety

For cities, fire alarm systems must cover multiple buildings, providing unified fire protection. Control rooms at medium and large cities have the largest scale of any in-house (proprietary) monitoring system. There are simply a very large number of buildings and floors to monitor. Every initiating device must terminate at the central monitoring facility for proper fire dispatch.

Additionally, advanced technologies such as wireless systems can be used to help reduce installation time and cost while still maintaining a high level of coverage and security. Mesh networks can be used to build a self-healing network that can survive fire damage.

Fire alarms for colleges and university campuses need the right equipment to protect students and faculty

Campuses often require different types of fire alarm equipment than cities due to their unique layout. Campus fire safety plans typically include both audiovisual and visual alarm systems, which can be used to alert students and staff of an emergency.

Campus fire alarm systems are often integrated with building access control systems, allowing for heightened security in the event of a fire. Additionally, stand-alone smoke detectors can be installed throughout campus buildings in order to provide early detection.

There is also an opportunity to get "double duty" from remote monitoring in education environments. It's possible to tie loud-noise sensors that can detect school shootings into the same dispatch system established for fire alarms. Many campuses install "blue light" safety intercoms that allow students to request help in both medical and criminal emergencies.

Military bases have special alarm equipment requirements related to aircraft and heavy vibration

Military installations have special requirements for fire alarm equipment due to the sensitive nature of the equipment and personnel located onsite.

Fire alarm systems for military installations must be designed to meet specific safety criteria, such as environmental ratings and sound levels. Additionally, these systems must be able to withstand high temperatures, humidity, shock, and vibration created by aircraft take-offs and landings.

Military fire alarm equipment must be designed to integrate with existing security systems and provide an additional layer of protection.

"Providing an additional layer of protection" implies that the fire alarm system itself cannot inadvertently compromise the security of what is inherently a sensitive military facility. This means that the fire alarm system must be, for example, immune from remote spying or tampering.

At Digitize, our security-related work with fire alarm systems for military bases has commonly revolved around:

  • Ensuring that any LAN-based systems include the proper encryption (ex. TLS v1.2) or completely eliminated unneeded access methods (ex. no LAN means no IP-based security concerns).
  • Using military-specified "legacy" transport methods that are inherently immune to modern cyber attacks.
  • Design or engineering systems under NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) or with "need to know" information.

Proprietary fire alarm monitoring (in-house) vs. Central station monitoring at larger facilities

Cities, university campuses, and military bases are significant in the world of fire alarm equipment because they have a scale that justifies a dedicated command center for monitoring fire alarms.

prism lx central display screen

If you want to monitor your own fire alarms instead of hiring a third-party service to do it, the Prism LX was built to do that job for you.

Instead of paying an outside provider for 7x24x365 monitoring, the agency or school administrators will establish their own monitoring center with their own equipment. This allows the facility to have oversight of all fire alarms under its jurisdiction and activate response plans quickly.

The process of monitoring your alarms in this way is known as "proprietary fire alarm monitoring." For facilities of this significant scale, proprietary fire alarm monitoring is more efficient, faster, and (ultimately) safer for the public.

Consider how this differs from what a small building manager will likely do. In that scenario, the cost of setting up and maintaining dedicated monitoring outweighs the benefit. The building manager here is much more likely to choose "central station monitoring" by contracting with a trusted third party.

If you work at a college, within a city government, or for one of the branches of the armed forces, don't neglect your duty to make the right choice here. It's very easy to default to the "easier" way of doing things by contracting with a central station.

Ultimately, however, a central station can be less efficient, less safe, and will typically end up costing more than a quality proprietary (in-house) fire alarm monitoring server.

What are the common types of "initiating device" equipment used for fire alarms?

Every detection system has to start the process of alarm somewhere. In fire alarm systems, these "starting points" for a reported alarm are known as the "initiating devices".

Fire alarm pull handle on a public street corner

Manual pull stations are a common type of "initiating equipment" found on city street corners and in buildings of all sizes.

Common types of "initiating fire alarm equipment" include:

  • Manual Pull Station
  • Smoke Detector
  • Heat Detector
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector

Each type of device has its own unique purpose and should be selected based on the individual facility's needs. Manual pull stations are typically used to manually initiate an alarm from a specific point and are the most common type of initiation device used in fire alarm systems. Smoke detectors detect smoke particles which is obviously key to detecting a potential fire, while heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have their own distinct roles as well.

How do I select fire alarm control panels (FACP)?

Fire alarm control panels (FACP) are the brains behind any fire alarm system. They're responsible for receiving signals from the various initiating devices and then transmitting that information to other parts of the system, such as an audible alarm or a buildingwide evacuation plan.

When selecting fire alarm control panels, there are several key considerations:

  1. The number of zones or devices the panel needs to control
  2. The electro/thermal/chemical ratings of the unit
  3. The available special features, such as tamper resistance, firefighter telephone circuits, etc.
  4. Whether it meets local fire codes and standards (UL listing or ETL listing is important here)
  5. The type of communication interface and protocol used for monitoring
  6. The cost/benefit of each panel (including replacement parts)

With all of these considerations in mind, it's important to make sure that you select the right fire alarm control panel for your facility. Only then can you be sure that your system will respond appropriately and efficiently in the event of a fire, which is paramount for protecting lives

What about fire annunciators?

Annunciators are the destination for all of the data that is collected from the fire alarm equipment. Annunciators, which can be glass-fronted panels or digital displays, show what type of device activated an alarm and where it is located.

At Digitize, our fire annunciator systems have been designed to give users the best possible way to view and track fire alarm activity. Our annunciators are easy to install and use, offering both graphical and text-based displays of fire alarm equipment status.

Fire-related detection systems require monitored circuits to ensure readiness at all times

In some remote monitoring contexts, it's acceptable for an alarm point to be susceptible to a wire cut. For example, a minor alarm for some miscellaneous backup system is not mission-critical.

This is not the case with fire alarms, where any wire failure of a pull handle or smoke detector could hide a life-threatening emergency.

To solve this, the standard in the fire industry is to have a "binary" (on/off) signals to actually have 3 possible states:

  • Normal: The device is online with wiring connected, but there is no alarm.
  • Alarm: The device is online with wiring connected, and there is an active alarm signal being sent.
  • Trouble: The device has a wiring fault. This must be promptly corrected so that future alarms can be detected.

Technologically, this is accomplished with a small resistor on the line.

The "Normal" state is actually not the absence of electrical flow. When a relay contact is open, some small amount of power still travels through the resistor and back to the FACP.

In an "Alarm" state, the relay contact has latched, and power flows freely (the resistor has been bridged by the relay). The FACP can detect this change and report the alarm to your central server or central station.

If a wire is cut, power flow stops completely. Like the other two states, your FACP is also capable of detecting this sudden lack of electrical continuity and reporting "Trouble".

In this way, alarm states that you probably think of as being binary on/off parameters actually have a third "Trouble" state. This ensures that, if you have a wiring problem, you know about it immediately.

Your fire alarm equipment can also play a role in other emergencies

Once any backbone system is established, it can be used for other things. By way of example, some of our large transit-agency clients bring rider-safety "panic buttons" and emergency-exit door opens into our Prism LX system. A central alarm collector is very capable of monitoring things other than fire alarms.

These days, facilities are demanding much more than just fire alarm systems. They also need to be prepared for potential security threats, medical emergencies, and other scenarios that can benefit from the strong foundation of a high-quality fire alarm equipment system.

Choose fire alarm equipment that demonstrates protection against false alarms

While fire alarms are critical to protecting lives, they can also be prone to false alarms if the equipment isn't up-to-date. This is why it's important to choose fire alarm equipment that has been developed with special features designed to reduce false alarms.

Some detection devices are equipped with algorithms that allow them to distinguish between false and actual alarms, helping to reduce the number of false alarms. This is especially important for areas where frequent false alarms can lead to a desensitization in staff or residents.

You're also starting to see automatic fire detection systems that use AI technology to filter out any potential false alarm triggers from real emergency signals. This helps ensure that your fire alarm system is always prepared and ready to respond when needed.

By investing in the right fire alarm equipment, you can be assured that your facility will be safe and secure while also minimizing the risk of false alarms. Make sure to do your research.

The NFPA fire codes dictate requirements that you also must satisfy

It's one thing to have a system that's ready to protect public safety and staff safety during a fire. It's a very similar thing to have a system that meets NFPA codes, since that's also the goal driving the specific code provisions.

You need to have the best available equipment so your team can fight back against potential fires in a timely manner. Selecting the right fire alarm equipment is an important part of your overall fire safety plan.

Remember, however, that there is not 100% overlap between the general goals described above and the specifics of federal, state, and local fire codes. In some cases, you might find yourself doing a few extra elements largely to "meet code". In others, you might actually go above and beyond the requirements of fire code in some way as you focus on your mission to respond effectively to fires.

For all organizations, don't forget that fire alarm equipment isn't just about meeting code (important though that is). It's also about responding quickly and efficiently when a fire does occur.

I don't mean to discount the remarkable accumulated wisdom contained in NFPA codes. It's the product of hundreds of years of learning. I only remind you that you're obligated to both comply with code for legal reasons and also complete the actual mission behind the fire code.

In fact, the NFPA even writes provisions for an alternative method of satisfying the code based on actual system performance instead of simple compliance with specific requirements. Only the largest organizations are likely to do this, but it's nice to see the option included.

It's your job to select the correct fire alarm equipment for your facilities and buildings

Fire alarm equipment is essential for providing early detection, notification, and evacuation in the event of a fire. There are also overlapping (but not identical) requirements written into the NFPA fire code that you also must satisfy.

By understanding the different requirements for cities, campuses, and military installations, building owners can ensure that their fire safety plans are up-to-date and effective. With the right fire alarm equipment in place, building occupants can rest assured that they will stay safe in the event of an emergency.

Digitize radio box family of equipment

Digitize equipment is available in a variety of device types to match with your fire alarm monitoring plan.

Talk to a fire alarm expert to put your project on the right path

There is a bit of know-how required to set up and begin using in-house fire alarm equipment to monitor your own alarms. That's why you should start by calling a full-service provider like me here at Digitize.

To learn more about fire alarm equipment for cities, campuses, and military installations, contact a professional today. They can provide you with expert advice on which system is best suited to your needs. With the right equipment in place, you can rest assured that your fire safety plan is up to date and effective.

Give Digitize a quick call to get started

When it comes to fire safety, no matter if you're in a city, university campus, or military base – make sure your fire alarm equipment is the best it can be. Invest in the right equipment and choose the most efficient monitoring solutions to ensure your property is safe and secure. Digitize can help you do just that.

Contact us today for more information about our fire alarm products and services:

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