What commercial fire alarm monitoring services do and do not do
Commercial fire alarm companies have staff who monitors alarm messages from their customers’ facilities. When they receive an alarm, they call a designated person to notify the customer about the alarm. If the designated person does not pick up the call, they will escalate the situation to a secondary contact or the fire department. Once they are able to get in touch with the customer or fire department, they will read the information in the fire alarm message to the contact. Their objective is to ensure the customer is aware of any alarm.
For homes and small commercial properties, this business model works well. The information in the fire alarm message is typically sufficient for the customer contact to take remedial actions for the situation. But for large and complex sites, it is not possible to put enough information in a short alarm text message to sufficiently locate fire detection devices. Because of its sheer size and complexity nature, it requires looking up secondary documentation in order to pin point problem areas. Commercial alarm monitoring service providers will notify but they do not troubleshoot issues nor try to pinpoint problems on the map or determine how to handle problems. Those are the customer’s responsibilities.
Why commercial fire alarm monitoring services may not work for large and complex sites
Fire alarm monitoring service providers are suitable for residential, small to medium commercial properties, and even large and low complexity commercial properties (like office buildings). Most of them have a relatively small number and varieties of fire detection devices. Compliance requirements for them are relatively low. On the other hand, for many large and complex sites:
- Looking up the emergency location from secondary documents takes time. The staff from commercial alarm monitoring services do not know the site intimately. Their staff takes care of many other customers and pinpointing problem areas on the map is just not something they can help with. Ultimately the responsibility falls on the customers to quickly locate the problem and have first response on the ground ASAP. This is why a graphical alarm management system is so essential.
- keeping an in-house staff to maintain fire alarm devices and provide first response, often on a 24/7 basis, is more cost effective than using outside commercial services.
- it takes a facility staff a long time to learn his or her way around sufficiently well so he or she can effectively provide maintenance and first response to emergency situations, and retaining the staff as a company asset would make more sense, from a knowledge retention perspective, than to use outside contractors.
- they may require facility personnel to have security clearances, and using cleared outside contractors would be very cost prohibitive.
- they may have worker’s unions that impose strict regulations on the use of outside service contractors.
In other words, fire alarm monitoring service providers and the makers of alarm management systems serve two very distinct markets. For large and complex sites, it makes sense to use an alarm management system. For other types of properties, it probably make sense to use a service provider.
Manual procedures introduce facility risks to large and complex sites
Unfortunately many large and complex sites today still use original fire detection equipment installed when the building was constructed decades ago. They are still following alarm maintenance and incident management protocols and procedures designed to work with those fire detection equipment. Most original fire detection equipment is not linked up with today’s communication infrastructure (like WiFi, mobile phones and internet). As a result these alarm maintenance and incident management protocols and procedures are mostly not automated and often rely on manual tasks to work. Because of this, many large and complex sites still rely on their own staff to monitor fire alarms.
Alarm Management System benefits
As explored in this article, performing manual tasks to pinpoint emergency locations in a fire alarm situation slows down first response. The manual tasks are error prone, and they can be totally automated by an Alarm Management System.
In addition, the emergency preparedness function of an Alarm Management System streamlines fire alarm testing activities. During testing, test records are automatically collected and saved in test log reports. This saves the fire alarm testing coordinator a lot of manual work for compiling test records into the required format for compliance reasons. Furthermore, facilities do not need to replace their existing fire detection systems in order to take advantage of the benefits.
Many large and complex sites are in fact critical facilities. Facility risks in large and complex sites, whether it is a critical facility or not, may jeopardize their missions. A smart alarm management system reduces facility risks and protect the sites.
In conclusion, it is ideal for large and complex sites, like transportation hub, manufacturing plants and industrial complexes, to monitor fire alarms with a computerized system. Not only does it reduce risks for the sites, it also helps fire code compliance.