A fire alarm control panel is the heart of a fire alarm system. It is the hub that receives the information from all fire alarms throughout a building or property and communicates any issues to the people monitoring the system. It is also able to control the alarms throughout a property, alert authorities, and complete safety tasks such as shutting off the HVAC system.
Sometimes abbreviated FACP or FACU, a properly functioning fire alarm control panel is essential for the health of the system as a whole. The ultimate goal of an FACP is to keep people safe and protect the building it’s housed in.
What Does a Fire Alarm Control Panel Do?
A fire alarm control panel centralizes information from a fire alarm system and controls all of the alarms.
If a fire is detected via a smoke detector, heat detector, fire pull station, or another trigger, the unit is designed to alert authorities and trigger sprinkler systems. It can also monitor the operational status of alarms and provide alerts about any malfunctions or improperly working alarms.
In a building with elevators, the FACP can recall elevators to keep people safe and away from the hazardous area. It can also shut down the HVAC system in a building if there is smoke within the system.
What Are the Components of a Fire Alarm Control Panel?
The fire alarm control panel keeps track of every initiating device in the system, whether it be a smoke detector or pull station. Initiating devices may include:
- Smoke detectors
- Pull stations
- Tamper switches
- Air aspirating detectors
- Duct detectors
- Heat detectors
On the control panel, these devices will either be accounted for individually, or they may be lumped together as parts of zones.
Different control panel models will use different language on their interface. When you look at your control panel, you may see some of the following components:
- Cancel alert
- System reset
- Sound alarms
- Silence alarms
Components on a panel will be different depending on whether you are dealing with a conventional fire alarm system or an addressable fire alarm system.
Components of a Conventional Fire Alarm Control Panel
In a conventional system, the fire alarm control panel does not have a list of every distinct smoke detector and pull station. Instead, the panel displays zones or areas. These zones then are often displayed on a key near the control panel.
For example, the panel may show that there was a fire detected in zone B. After looking at the key, you will see that it is on the third floor. The system will not show which exact detector detected the fire. The zone in question is typically indicated by a light on the control panel.
Components of an Addressable Fire Alarm Control Panel
In an addressable system, the fire alarm control panel will show exactly which detector or pull station detected the fire. This is typically indicated by text that will display on the screen on the control panel.
Unsurprisingly, this can make responding to a fire much more efficient. You will find addressable fire alarm control panels in most newer buildings.
How to Use a Fire Alarm Control Panel
To use a fire alarm control panel, you first need to understand what states the alerts on a panel can show. Most panels can show three different alerts: normal, alarm, or trouble.
A normal alert means the detector in question is working normally. You don’t need to do anything.
An alarm alert means the detector in question is actively alarming. Authorities have been called, and you need to respond appropriately to the fire.
A trouble alert means that something isn’t working correctly with the fire alarm system. This could mean a battery has died in a wireless system, a wire short-circuited in a wired system, or another problem occurred with the system and its detectors. You need to investigate the problem.
You don’t need to do much to use a fire alarm control panel. If the panel is displaying an alert, then respond to the alert appropriately by evacuating the building or addressing an area of trouble.
How to Use the Buttons on a Fire Alarm Control Panel
Of course, refer to the manual for your fire alarm system to understand how to use the control panel. Many of the buttons on the control panel are straightforward.
The sound alarms button, for example, will sound all the alarms in the system.
Some buttons might have different meanings on different control panels.
Most panels have buttons that differentiate acknowledging the alarm from silencing the alarm.
Acknowledging the alarm tells the system you know it has been triggered and you are aware of the alarm. If you acknowledge the alarm, the detectors throughout the building will continue to alert occupants of the issue.
Silencing the alarm, on the other hand, tells the system to turn off all alarms. Only use this button if you are sure all occupants are out of the building or if you are sure it is safe to be in the building.
Maintaining a Fire Alarm Control Panel and Fire Alarm System
Making sure the system is in working order keeps the occupants safe. Fire alarm systems should be visually inspected regularly, and the frequency of inspection can vary based on standard laws and codes. In some cases, you should inspect your system and control panel weekly, and in others only yearly.
To inspect your fire alarm system, complete a visual check of the control panel. Make sure all indicator lights are working and make sure no trouble lights are illuminated. If your system uses wireless detectors, replace batteries regularly.
Once per year, you should also manually check your control panel and system. Complete tests of all signaling devices in the system and confirm they indicate appropriately on the control panel. Before conducting tests, contact any authorities that will be automatically alerted by your tests.