Choosing a Central Station for Your Fire Alarm Monitoring Requirement

By Andrew Erickson

November 13, 2023

If you choose to use one, the central station that monitors your fire alarm system plays a critical role. Your choice demands careful consideration of several key factors to ensure the safety and security of your building(s).

Let's explore the essential elements, point out the dangers of poor decisions, and discuss how these choices impact the price you pay. We'll also look at compatibility issues with on-site equipment and compare central station monitoring with proprietary systems.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Central Station

To begin with, a trustworthy central station must follow industry standards and certifications. It's important to look for a station with UL certification, as it demonstrates a strong commitment to safety and operational standards. This certification validates the station's ability to handle alarms efficiently and dependably.

You must also consider whether any central station is using sufficiently modern technology. A central station with the latest technology ensures quick detection and response to fire alarms - even from your newest fire alarm equipment.

Also consider the track record of a central station. When searching for stations, prioritize those with a solid reputation supported by positive customer testimonials and a longstanding presence in the industry. Experience enhances the comprehension of complex situations and enables a more effective response to emergencies.

Potential Pitfalls of an Incorrect Choice

Delayed Response Times

Choosing the wrong central station can result in dangerous delays in alarm responses. In critical situations, every second matters, and delayed responses can worsen the outcome, potentially leading to catastrophic consequences.

In short, this is one of those "wouldn't you rather buy a bit more than you need?" situations.

Inadequate Coverage (including Compatibility)

A central station that doesn't provide comprehensive coverage leaves your property vulnerable. Gaps in monitoring can leave certain areas unprotected, posing a significant risk.

This includes coverage that simply can't exist due to protocol incompatibility.

Lack of Support and Service

24/7 support is essential. A central station should provide consistent support and prompt service to ensure the reliability of your fire alarm system at all times.

Keep in mind that you're "farming out" the safety of your buildings to another organization. This offers advantages, of course, but you'd better be certain that you're getting the necessary support and service from that third party.

Pricing Considerations for Fire Alarm Monitoring

Central stations typically offer different pricing models, ranging from flat fees to tiered options based on the services you require. You should carefully review these models to avoid any hidden costs that could increase your expenses.

Flat fee pricing is a simple and predictable model. You pay a consistent monthly fee, regardless of the number of alarms or incidents. This model is appreciated for its simplicity and predictability. It can be cost-effective for buildings with higher incident rates since the fees remain the same regardless of the number of alarms.

However, the trade-off is that you may be paying for services you don't necessarily need or use if your fire alarm incidents are infrequent.

On the other hand, tiered pricing models are based on the level of service you require. The cost increases with the complexity and number of services you choose.

For organizations that need minimal fire alarm monitoring services, a lower tier may provide sufficient coverage at a more affordable rate. However, this can be a more complex model to understand and budget for. Your costs may increase if you require additional services or if the number of incidents exceeds your tier's limit.

Consider both the nature and frequency of the services you need.

Ultimately, while cost is a factor, it should hardly be the only consideration. Evaluate the value of the services in relation to their price to ensure you are getting the best protection for your investment. Quality service may come at a higher price, but the cost of inadequate monitoring will be much greater.

Compatibility with On-Site Equipment and Systems

Ensuring that the new system works in concert with your existing equipment is absolutely critical.

When it comes to compatibility, your central station should not only communicate with your fire alarm system but also enhance its functionality. Before choosing a central station, make sure it integrates with your current setup, including any legacy systems.

Technology in the fire safety industry is always evolving, so select a central station that meets current standards and can adapt to future changes.

Central Station Monitoring vs. Proprietary Systems

Choosing between a third-party central station and a proprietary monitoring system is a big decision. It affects your organization's workflow, budget, and overall security.

A proprietary system, managed internally by your staff, gives you control and immediate access to data. However, it requires maintenance, training, and potentially complex upgrades. It's a solid choice for organizations with resources to invest in specialized personnel and equipment.

Comparing Your Two Options

The comparison between central station monitoring and proprietary systems boils down to a few critical factors:

  1. Cost implications: Central stations often work on a subscription model, resulting in predictable recurring costs. Proprietary systems, while potentially more cost-effective over time, require a larger initial outlay of cash.
  2. Staffing and training requirements: Proprietary systems necessitate a dedicated, trained team to operate and respond to alarms. Central stations offer the convenience of trained professionals as part of their service.
  3. Liability and insurance considerations: In-house monitoring may impact your liability and insurance premiums. It's worth discussing these implications with your insurer to understand the potential financial impact fully.

Each option presents its own set of benefits and challenges, and the decision should align with your organization's specific needs and capabilities.

Get Help With This Important Decision

The journey to enhanced fire safety begins with informed decision-making. I encourage you to engage with fire safety experts who can provide tailored advice for your unique situation.

Choosing the right central station for fire alarm monitoring or an in-house proprietary system is more than just a purchase. It's a crucial step to safeguard your assets and have peace of mind. The stakes are high, and the responsibility is yours, but remember that you don't have to face it alone.

Digitize engineers are available any time to help you assess your options. Simply call 1-800-523-7232 or email

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