Digitize's Prism LX Monitoring System Protects Cornell University

Some of our biggest clients are college campuses. The numerous buildings, high population density, and extensive staff of a campus makes them the perfect candidates to monitor their own fire alarm systems. After receiving proper instruction from our dedicated technical support team, campuses find that they are able to save exorbitant amounts by avoiding recurring monitoring service fees. As an added bonus, they also have complete control over what they’re monitoring, allowing them to curate their monitoring experience for a college campus’ needs.

One of the oldest and most prestigious users of Digitize’s fire protection solutions is Cornell University. We sat down with John Ematinger, a Digitize Engineer who has personally overseen the planning and integration of the various custom fire safety solutions Digitize has sold to Cornell.


This is part of the Cornell University campus.

“Our relationship with Cornell goes back to before I started at Digitize,” relayed Ermatinger, who has worked here for over 25 years, “I’m guessing around 30 years. They’ve gone through several generational upgrades on their system. I remember they were operating with a handful of Digitize System 3000 monitoring devices. I remember us [Digitize] speaking with them, Cornell upgrading all of their head end units to the System 3505s, and certainly now, the Prism LX systems. Every time we’ve released a new monitoring system, they’ve been interested in upgrading. It’s definitely a special relationship we enjoy with them.”

Why does Cornell Monitor Their Own Alarms?

It may come as a surprise that Cornell University opts to monitor its own alarm systems. As an internationally celebrated academic institution and the leader in many diverse fields of research, Cornell certainly has their hands full. Why would they want to take on the added responsibility of monitoring their own alarm systems? Why any of our clients seek out Digitize’s custom fire alarm solutions is something only they can answer, but considering the price of alarm monitoring services, it’s not hard to imagine that Cornell’s decision to self-monitor was the product of careful consideration, research and planning.

prism lx central display screen

This is an image of a Prism LX central display screen. For those who wish to monitor their fire monitoring system instead of hiring a third party service to do it, the prism lx is one example of a readily available server on the market.

As we’ve pointed out before on this site, the convenience of a monitoring service may seem worth the price, but chances are, the number you see on your bill will be quite different from the one you were quoted. Not only do these services charge recurring fees, but they also tend to price their services relative to the amount of fire alarm control panels requiring monitoring. Most major alarm monitoring services issue quotes competitive with $50/month. If you have five control panels that require constant monitoring, a conservative estimate for any active campus, that initial $50/month quote can quickly become a $250/month bill, often in the form of non-negotiable multi-year contracts. This is the main motivation for sizable campuses to opt to self-monitor, using a manufacturer such as Digitize. However, that is not to say that self-monitoring comes without its own considerations.

The Challenges Of Monitoring A Large Campus

Understandable for a campus of their size and reputation, Cornell’s fire protection system required careful consideration and planning. Communication between Digitize and Cornell was paramount to developing the university’s perfect alarm monitoring solution. This meant developing an intimate understanding of Cornell’s campus and being able to identify what features would act as strengths and weaknesses within their fire alarm monitoring system.

Everything had to be taken into account, from which buildings were typically populated and which were vacant to where all emergency services were located, including university dispatch and first responders, as well as local municipal fire departments. Ermatinger was able to shed some light on this, “The campus currently employs a series of five Prism LX units. Due to the size of the campus, these Prism LX units have to be strategically placed throughout the university. It is extremely important that the units are connected, that the Prisms are all talking to each other”

Campus Monitoring Solutions with the Prism LX Multiplex System

“Without getting too technical,” Ermatinger prefaced, “The Prisms all talk. Some of them are manned and some aren’t, depending on where they’re located on the campus. There are plenty of people assigned to monitoring and dispatch roles, but it simply wouldn’t make sense for each Prism head end unit to be monitored all of the time.”

“Some of the Prism systems are always monitored, with a person sitting behind a screen, 24/7, 365 days a year. There’s dispatch offices and first responders stationed all throughout the campus. The main Prism LX system, which receives all alerts, shares this information with all other Prisms. All Prisms receive information via ethernet based alarm communications, which are wired across all of the Prism systems on a local area network.”

Cornell’s approach to fire alarm system monitoring used more than just the Prism LX head end unit. “It would be impossible to understate the importance of the Multiplex System [in Cornell’s custom monitoring plan],” began Ermatinger. This refers to the Digitize System 3505 Prism LX™ Multiplex Proprietary Alarm Monitoring System. “Cornell utilizes a very large Multiplex system. This system contains data gathering modules, or DGMs. Currently, I believe Cornell has at least 120 large Muxpad IIs (the most recent model). These Muxpads receive serial communication from all of the fire alarm control panels throughout the campus. There are 2 or 3 different fire departments that respond depending on which alarm is triggered.


This is an image of a Digitize Muxpad II. The Muxpad II is a Data Gathering Module (DGM), which is a part of the Digitize System 3505 Prism LX™ Supervised Bidirectional Polling Alarm Monitoring System. It is used to monitor addressable fire alarm control panels (FACP).

“The Multiplex monitors over 120 or 130 Muxpads and other conventional DGMs. More recently they [Digitize] have added dialer receiver capabilities. The system has ethernet, but that is typically only used for communication between head end devices, so they use dialer receiver communicators.” Possibly sensing a confused expression on my face, he continued, “Each system has one. They are technically redundant, but in a case where they couldn’t use other means, they can defer to dial up communication using these redundant dialer receiver communicators.”

Currently, Cornell University has no plans of migrating their system away from the Digitize System 3505 Prism LX™ Multiplex Proprietary Alarm Monitoring System. In the upcoming months, Digitize has conferences with Cornell, along with several other Ivy League universities, lined up, but as John reassured me, “These are almost certainly routine check-ins. It’s rare that they request unscheduled maintenance, upgrades, or changes. When they do, we hear them out and brainstorm a custom solution, that’s what we do here at Digitize.”