A question we often get is “we are already using a service to monitor fire alarms, why do we still need an alarm management system?”. The short answer is fire alarm monitoring service only provides minimal protection; solid emergency preparedness and an alarm management system is ultimately what protects your site. To understand this, we first have to see what a commercial fire alarm monitoring company does and what it does not do for their customers.
“Fire alarm monitoring service only provides minimal protection; solid emergency preparedness and an alarm management system is ultimately what protects your site”
What commercial fire alarm monitoring companies do
Commercial fire alarm monitoring companies maintain a staff that monitors many properties. Their objective is to monitor and notify. When they get an alarm, they will try to notify the primary contact person of the property by phone. If the primary contact is not available, then they will escalate it and try to contact the secondary contact. If none of the contacts are available, they will notify the police/fire department.
If they are able to get in touch with a customer contact, they would read out the fire alarm message to the contact. After this, it’s the customer’s responsibility to take care of the alarm.
What the customer need to do
Once notified, the customer quickly pinpoints the exact emergency location and sends the incident commander over there to assess. The incident commander will determine if the situation is something they can handle. If not, the incident command staff will involve public services like the fire/police department or EMS appropriately.
In other words, it is critical for the incident commander to get to the emergency location quickly. If the emergency is time critical, what begins as a minor issue could become a devastating issue if the incident command staff is unable to get there quickly. For example, if a high pressure water pipe is broken, being able to quickly determine which water valve should be shutoff, where it is and how to get to there is critical in order to minimize water damages.
Without an alarm management system, pinpointing a location involves referencing static documentation including spreadsheets, PDF files, and facility map drawings. This is a time consuming manual and error prone process. For this reason, it is critical for large facilities sites to eliminate these manual steps with an automated alarm management system in order to provide maximum protection to the facilities.
How an Alarm Management System can help and monitoring services cannot
In order for the incident command staff to get to the emergency location in the shortest possible amount of time, the delivery of the fire alarm message to the first respond staff must be automated. All steps involving human manual interactions should be used as a safety net. Just in case if technology fails, this safety net ensures the emergency won’t go unnoticed. But relying on this last resort mechanism to protect your facilities will not enable your incident command staff sufficient time to react to situations.
An alarm management system automatically sends fire alarm messages directly to the incident commander’s phone within seconds. The emergency location is graphically located on the system console, and the dispatcher will be aware of the exact location. In our experience, by the time monitoring service got to handle a fire alarm and phoned the primary contact, the first respond staff already had the information minutes ago and was already well on his way.
Fire Alarm Monitoring Service is a only Safety net
When a fire detection system receives an alarm message, it automatically activates the fire bell and strobe lights throughout the facilities. This way, whoever is in the facilities should become aware of an emergency. In a 24/7 large and complex site where there are staff on duty all the time, the need for fire alarm monitoring services from a 3rd party is technically not needed. However, it is still good to have it from accountability perspective. It is also good to have it as a backup strategy in case if technology fails.
For many large and complex sites, alarm management systems are critical. They provide incident command staff critical information instantaneously, enabling them to start reacting to situations in the shortest possible amount of time. Fire alarm monitoring companies monitor and notify. Although many fire alarm monitoring companies provide excellent services, they are meant to be backup solutions and provide minimum protection.
Fire alarm monitoring companies do not know their customers’ sites as well as the customers’ own incident command staff. They are not on site and they monitor their customers’ sites from their remote central stations. Ultimately it is the customers’ responsibilities to respond to emergencies as quickly as possible. But at the same time, it is good to have fire alarm monitoring companies looking after their back as a backup strategy.
Both alarm management systems and fire alarm monitoring companies have their specific purposes and provide for different needs. For that reason, they do not replace each other in the realm of fire alarm monitoring and response.