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Commercial Central Station Fire Alarm Service
The connection of a building's automatic sprinkler, fire alarm, or smoke detection system to a listed* central station alarm company provides the most effective means of overseeing the fire protection at that facility. The property insurance industry has long recognized the value of having a secure means of overseeing an insured property when the facility is not occupied. In addition, insurers have clearly seen the value of promptly detecting certain abnormal conditions that may affect the operation of the property's built-in fire protection systems.
This report provides an overview of the requirements for central station fire alarm service.
Benefits of Central Station Service
Among the advantages of installing a signaling system for central station service at a property are:
- Fire alarm signals (e.g., sprinkler flow, smoke detector activation, etc.) are detected, signaled to a central station facility, and retransmitted to the fire department automatically. Prompt fire department notification is assured, enhancing the department's response to the property.
- Supervisory (e.g., valve-tamper switch’s and temperature alarms) and trouble (i.e., alarm system power loss) signals are detected, signaled to a central station facility, and the appropriate person (i.e., property owner or manager) is automatically notified. Prompt notification to the property owner or manager of these conditions allows expeditious response and repair of these systems.
- Records of signals received allow authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and property insurance carriers to review the history of the operation of various fire protection systems at the protected property.
The ability to respond rapidly to alarm system signals is paramount in reducing losses from fires. To ensure the highest levels of service, central station companies should comply with the requirements of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Components of Central Station Service
The requirements for central station service are provided in Chapter 26 of NFPA 72. These requirements are divided into six components, three of which apply to the protected property - installation, testing and maintenance, and runner** service - and the other three, the central station - monitoring of signals (e.g., alarm, guard, supervisory, and trouble), retransmission of signals to the fire department, and record keeping.
The standard permits four specific ways of providing these elements:
- When a listed central station service company provides all six elements.
- When a listed central station company subcontracts some or all of the three components related to the protected property (i.e., installation, testing and maintenance, and runner service) to another listed company that will provide those components under the direct control of the contracted listed central station service company.
- When a listed local company provides the three components related to the protected property and subcontracts the three components related to the central station (i.e., monitoring of signals, retransmission of signals to the fire department, and recordkeeping) to a listed central station service company.
- When a listed central station company provides the installation and testing and subcontracts the monitoring, retransmission, runner, and recordkeeping to another listed central station service company. Runner service may be administered by either central station company.
Regardless of the method used to provide central station service, the standard requires that the system be certificated by an independent third party. The certification should document that the system has been installed in accordance to the requirements of NFPA 72 and should contain the:
- Central Station Primary Contractor’s Name.
- System Description.
- Document Date.
- Identification of the company who issued the certificate, including name, address, and contact information.
- Name and Contact information of the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for the location.
This certification should be placed on a placard located either on or within 3 ft. (1 m) of the fire alarm control or some other major system component when a control panel is non-existent.
Requirements for the Central Station
NFPA 72 provides a number of requirements for the central station, including requirements for facilities, equipment, personnel, signal processing, recordkeeping, and testing and maintenance.
Central station facilities. Buildings used, in whole or part, for central station service should be designed and constructed in accordance with the requirements of UL 827, Standard for Safety for Central-Station Alarm Services, published by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). UL 827 requires that a central station be located in physically secure buildings and be provided with fire protection, backup power, and emergency lighting systems.
When subsidiary stations*** are used, they should be provided with fire, intrusion, power failure, and environmental alarms that are monitored by the central station. Subsidiary stations should be provided with backup power and communications systems that come online within 90 seconds of a failure in the primary systems. At least monthly, subsidiary stations should be inspected to ensure backup systems, such as batteries, phone lines, and generators, are functional. Central station companies should have operational plans to address restoration of services for each subsidiary station. Restoration should occur within four hours of any impairment that causes a loss of signal. At least annually, an exercise should be conducted to test the reliability of the equipment and the effectiveness of the restoration plans.
Equipment. Central stations, including subsidiary stations, should be provided with the equipment necessary to receive and record signals from the protected premises. Recording of signals should include any change in the protected properties system status, such as alarm, supervisory, or trouble alarms. When any of these alarm signals change status, the recording equipment should document the status change (e.g., alarm cleared).
Equipment should also be capable of providing an audible signal to the central station operators when action is required (e.g., notification of fire department) by the operator. NFPA 72 provides a number of other equipment requirements, including:
- The recording equipment should be capable of recording the type, condition, location, time, and date the signal was received.
- At least two independent and reliable power supplies must be present.
- Two separate means must be available to retransmit a fire alarm signal to the fire department communications center.
Personnel. Operators working at central station facilities should be trained in the safe operation of the equipment and the methods used to retransmit alarms. A minimum of two persons should be on duty at all times. Operators should not be assigned to any other duties (i.e., marketing calls, building maintenance, etc.) that may distract them from monitoring and transmission of alarms.
Signal processing. The manner in which signals from a protected property are processed is paramount to effective central station service. The central station is not only responsible to receive and record these signals, but also to take prompt action based on the type of signal received.
- Alarm signals. All alarm signals (e.g., manual fire alarm boxes, automatic fire detectors, and water flow sensors) should be immediately retransmitted by the central station operator to the public safety communications center or the service subscriber, and a runner or technician should be dispatched to the protected premises to reset equipment, if required, within two hours of notification.
- Guard tour supervisory signals. When guard tour services are monitored and a guard supervisory signal is not received within 15-minutes of the appointed check-in time, the central station operator should attempt to contact the protected property’s onsite employees. If communications with the protected property cannot be established, local law enforcement should be notified and a runner dispatched to the property to investigate the failure to signal.
- Supervisory signals. When supervisory signals (i.e., valve sensors) from fire protection systems are received, the central station operator should immediately notify the service subscriber and dispatch a runner within 2-hours to investigate, unless the subscriber clears the signal. When the protected property is unoccupied or the subscriber cannot be contacted, the central station should notify the fire department or local law enforcement agency of the signal. Central station operators are also expected to notify the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) when fire suppression systems or equipment have been out of service for eight hours.
- Trouble signals. When trouble signals (i.e., low battery) or equipment maintenance signals are received at the central station, the operator should notify the subscriber and dispatch a runner for system repair, if required. Repair staff should be on site within four hours of notification.
- Test signals. Test signals should be recorded in the system log. Any signal not received by the central station should be promptly investigated. If manual resetting of the system is required, following system testing, a technician should be on site within two-hours to restore the system.
Recordkeeping. All records of signal receipt, alarm activation, system tests, and service should be maintained by the central station service for at least one year. These records should be provided to both the subscriber and the AHJ, as required by local code.
Testing and Maintenance. All alarm system’s testing and maintenance, required by NFPA 72, must be provided by the central station company, including:
- Initial acceptance testing.
- Re-acceptance testing.
- Post-repair testing.
- Regularly scheduled testing (monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually).
Selecting a Central Station Service
Failure to meet the requirements of NFPA 72 is the major pitfall to effective central station service. Many new fire alarm installations are being performed by local alarm contractors who are not listed. The contractors install equipment at the protected property and then subcontract with a so-called "national monitoring company" to monitor the signals transmitted from the property. This is not an accredited central station service. So-called "non-standard" central station service can be prevented by consistently accepting service only when:
- It is provided by a recognized listing company.
- All components of the system are listed for the particular purpose.
- The installations at the protected property and the procedures and practices at the central station fully comply with the requirements of NFPA 72.
While not required by NFPA 72, the use of a central station company that has been listed by UL, under the category, “Protective Signaling Services - Central Station (UUFX),” is highly recommended. When the fire alarm system is also covered by the UL Fire Alarm Certificate Service, AHJs (and insurance carriers) can take advantage of independent, third-party oversight of the system. For additional information, see Fire Protection Report FP-21-03, Fire Alarm Certificate Service of Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
Summary of Central Station Fire and Alarm Systems
A signaling system for central station service is a valuable tool for loss prevention. The highest probability that such service will function as intended comes only when it has been provided in accordance with all the requirements of NFPA 72.
For more information on loss control and managing business risks, check out the American Family Insurance Loss Control Resource Center.
*Listed. Equipment, materials, or services included in a list published by an organization that is acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and concerned with evaluation of products or services, that maintains periodic inspection of production of listed equipment or materials or periodic evaluation of services, and whose listing states that either the equipment, material, or service meets appropriate designated standards or has been tested and found suitable for a specified purpose.
**Runner. A person, other than the required number of operators on duty, that is dispatched to the protected premises to investigate and correct alarm system malfunctions, including resetting and silencing of all equipment transmitting fire alarm or supervisory signals.
***Subsidiary Station. A subsidiary station is a remote location (i.e., from the supervising station) that is normally unattended and is linked by a communication channel to the supervising station.
1. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fire Protection Handbook. 20th ed. Quincy, MA: NFPA, 2008.
2. ---. National Fire Alarm Code. NFPA 72. Quincy, MA: NFPA, 2013.
3. Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Standard for Central-Station Alarm Services. UL 827. Northbrook, IL: UL, 2014.
COPYRIGHT ©2015, ISO Services, Inc.
The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.