Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
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.
Among the advantages of installing a signaling system for central station service at a property are:
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).
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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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.