Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP): What Is It & How It Works

Ever wondered what the brain behind your building’s fire alarm system is? That complex-looking panel with flashing lights and buttons is a Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP).

But what exactly is it, and how does it work?

This article delves into the definition of FACP and its functionality, explaining what this crucial piece of equipment does and how it keeps you safe in case of a fire emergency.

By understanding the meaning behind the beeps and flashes, you’ll gain valuable insight into this vital building safety system.

What Is a Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP)?

A Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP) is the central brain of a fire alarm system. The FACP acts as the command center, receiving information from various fire detection devices and acting upon it.

An FACP is also known as a fire alarm control unit (FACU), fire indicator panel (FIP), or simply, a fire alarm panel. The main purpose of the FACP is to detect and respond to a potential fire.

FACP fire alarm system operation diagram

How Does a Fire Alarm Control Panel Work?

A Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP) plays a crucial role in safeguarding lives and property by coordinating the entire fire alarm system. In short, the FACP acts as the central hub of a fire alarm system, managing the detection and response to potential fire threats.

Here is a breakdown of its operation to detect and respond to a potential fire:

1. Receiving Signals

Fire Detectors: Smoke detectors, heat detectors, and other fire detection devices are connected to the FACP through electrical circuits.

Manual Pull Stations: These stations are located throughout the building and can be activated by people who see or smell a fire.

Other Devices: Depending on the system complexity, the FACP might receive signals from other devices like water flow switches in sprinkler systems.

2. Processing Information

  • The FACP continuously monitors the electrical currents running through the circuits.
  • When a fire detector or manual pull station is triggered, it alters the electrical current on the specific circuit connected to that device.
  • The FACP detects this change and identifies the exact location of the trigger based on the circuit configuration.
  • Depending on the type of panel (conventional or addressable), it might receive additional data like the specific device that triggered the alarm.

3. Taking Action

Triggering Alarms: Once the FACP confirms a fire threat, it sounds audible alarms (bells) and activates visual alarms (strobes) in the affected area, sometimes throughout the entire building, depending on the system programming so people can REACT.

Sending Notifications: Depending on the system setup and local regulations, the FACP might automatically send signals to:

Monitoring companies: These companies can then contact emergency services or take other pre-determined actions.

Fire department: In some cases, the FACP might directly connect to the fire department for faster response.

Controlling other Systems: The FACP can be programmed to interact with other fire protection systems like:

  • Fire doors: They can be automatically closed to contain the fire and smoke.
  • Sprinkler systems: The FACP might activate specific zones of the sprinkler system to suppress the fire.

Providing Status Information: The FACP displays information on its panel, including the location of the triggered alarm, system status, and any potential faults.

Types of FACP Electrical Panels

There are four basic types of FACP electrical panels: coded panels, conventional panels, addressable panels, and multiplex systems.

Here is an over of each:

  • Coded panels: These are the oldest type of FACP, dating back to the 1800s. They use coded signals, such as bells or horns, to indicate the location and severity of a fire. They are rarely used today, except for historical preservation.
  • Conventional panels: These are the most common type of FACP, especially for small to medium-sized buildings. They use point-wired circuits to connect detectors and alarms in different zones. The panel can identify which zone has a fire, but not the exact device.
  • Addressable panels: These are the most advanced type of FACP, suitable for large and complex buildings. They use digital communication to assign a unique address to each device in the system. The panel can pinpoint the exact location and status of a fire, as well as control individual devices.
  • Multiplex panels: These are a transitional type of FACP, bridging the gap between conventional and addressable systems. They use multiplexing technology to send and receive multiple signals over a single wire. They offer some of the benefits of addressable systems, such as reduced wiring and enhanced functionality.

Comparing Addressable and Conventional FACP Fire Alarm System Panels

Here is a table that compares FACP addressable and conventional panels, which are the two most common Fire Alarm Control Panels used today:

CommunicationDigital communication with unique address for each devicePoint-wired circuits with devices in different zones
WiringLess cabling, one wire connects all devices to the panelMore cabling, different wire for each device and each wire connects to the panel
Location detectionPinpoints the exact location and status of a fire and the type of device that caused itIdentifies the zone or area where a fire is located, but not the specific device
CostMore expensive, more advanced and sophisticated devices and technologyCheaper, simpler devices and technology
SuitabilityLarge and complex buildings, more functionality and reliabilitySmall and medium-sized buildings, less functionality and reliability

Here is a diagram showing the comparison of conventional FACP and addressable FACP alarm systems:

FACP diagram comparing addressable and conventional panels

Fire Alarm Control Panel Signal Types

Fire Alarm Control Panels use different types of signals to communicate the status and condition of the fire alarm system. There are three basic categories of fire alarm panel signals:

  • Alarm signals: These indicate the presence of a fire or potential fire hazard, such as smoke, heat, or manual activation. They trigger notification devices, such as horns, strobes, and speakers, to alert building occupants and authorities. They also activate fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers, and other protective actions, such as shutting down HVAC systems.
  • Trouble signals: These indicate a problem or malfunction within the fire alarm system, such as loss of power, faulty wiring, low battery, or ground fault. They generate an audible and visual indication at the fire alarm control panel and notify maintenance personnel. They require immediate attention to ensure the system’s integrity and reliability.
  • Supervisory signals: These indicate the status of certain devices or equipment within the fire protection system, such as valve position, air pressure, or fuel level. They are not emergency situations, but they are important for the system’s performance. They display the affected device or equipment at the fire alarm control panel and notify the monitoring company. They need to be addressed promptly to ensure the system’s functionality.

The Parts of the Fire Alarm Control Panel

An FACP has five main components that make up a complete fire alarm system and include the following:

Main Circuit Board: This is the heart of the FACP, responsible for processing information from connected devices, making decisions based on pre-programmed logic, and controlling the system’s outputs.

Input Circuits: These circuits receive electrical signals from various fire detection devices like smoke detectors, heat detectors, and manual pull stations.

Output Circuits: These circuits carry electrical signals from the FACP to activate various devices, such as:

  • Alarm notification appliances: Audible (bells, horns) and visual (strobes) alarms to alert occupants of a potential fire.
  • Building control systems: Fire doors, elevators, and ventilation systems.
  • Communication interfaces: Transmit alarm signals to monitoring stations or emergency services.

Power Supply: Provides electricity to power the FACP and its connected devices. Most FACPs have a backup battery power supply to ensure operation in case of a power outage.

Annunciator Panel: This is the user interface of the FACP, displaying information about the system status, such as active alarms, system faults, and zone locations. It may also have controls for acknowledging alarms, silencing alarms, and performing system tests.

Parts of the fire alarm control panel system
Source: International Fire Service Training Association

Fire Alarm Control Panel Requirements

Fire Alarm Control Panel requirements are established by various authorities to ensure the system functions effectively and safely in case of a fire.

Here is a breakdown of some key requirements:

  • They must comply with the standards and regulations of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the International Building Code (IBC), and the local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ).
  • The FACP must be listed and labeled by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) to ensure it meets specific safety and performance standards.
  • They must be installed in a convenient and accessible location, usually on the same level as the firefighter’s entrance, and close to the front door or the main electrical room.
  • They must have adequate space and clearance around them, with a minimum depth of 36 inches, a minimum width of 30 inches or the size of the panel box, whichever is greater, and a minimum height of 6.5 feet or the height of the panel, whichever is greater.
  • The FACP must have a reliable and uninterrupted power supply, with a primary source, such as AC mains, and a secondary source, such as batteries, for backup in case of power failure.
  • They must have a display and interface that shows the status and condition of the fire alarm system and allows the user to interact with the panel, such as acknowledging, silencing, and resetting the alarms.
  • They must have input and output modules that allow the panel to communicate with various fire detection devices, such as smoke detectors, heat detectors, manual pull stations, and sprinkler flow switches, and activate notification devices, such as horns, strobes, and speakers, and control devices, such as relays, dampers, and doors.
  • The FACP must be inspected and tested at regular intervals, typically annually or semi-annually, by a qualified technician to ensure proper functionality.

It’s crucial to consult with a qualified fire alarm professional and the AHJ to determine the specific FACP requirements for your project based on local regulations and building specifics.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where should FACP panels be located?

The location of FACP panels may vary depending on the building code, the fire code, and the authority having jurisdiction. However, some general guidelines are that FACP panels should be installed in a convenient and accessible location, usually on the same storey as the firefighter’s entrance, and close to the front door or the main electrical room. They should also have adequate space and clearance around them, and a reliable and uninterrupted power supply.

What is the difference between FACP and annunciator panel?

The difference between an FACP and annunciator panel is that FACP is the main control unit of the fire alarm system, while annunciator panel is a remote device that displays the status and condition of the fire alarm system.

Annunciator panels are usually located in areas separate from the FACP, such as lobbies, hallways, or entrances, to provide quick and easy access to information and functions for the facility staff and the fire and rescue service.

Can a fire alarm panel be behind a door?

A fire alarm panel can be behind a door, as long as the door is not locked and the panel is not obstructed. However, this is not a recommended practice, as it may reduce the visibility and accessibility of the panel. It is better to install the panel in a clear and open area, or to provide a sign or a label on the door indicating the presence of the panel.

Does a fire alarm panel need to be at an entrance?

A fire alarm panel does not necessarily need to be at the entrance, but it should be near the entrance or in a location that is easily accessible and visible to the firefighters and the facility staff. Some building codes and fire codes may have specific requirements for the placement of fire alarm panels, so it is advisable to check with the local authorities before installing the panel.

Does a fire alarm panel need to be visible?

A fire alarm panel does not need to be visible to the general public, but it should be visible to the authorized personnel who are responsible for operating and maintaining the fire alarm system. The panel should also have visible and audible indicators that show the status and condition of the fire alarm system, such as lights, text displays, bells, or horns.

Does a fire alarm panel need to be on its own circuit?

A fire alarm panel does need to be on its own circuit, which means it cannot share the power source with other devices, such as lights, receptacles, or appliances. The circuit should also be mechanically protected, meaning it has to be provided with an automatic disconnecting means, such as a circuit breaker. This is to ensure that the fire alarm panel has a reliable and uninterrupted power supply, and to prevent any interference or damage from other devices.

Which fire alarm panel is best?

The best fire alarm panel for your building may depend on several factors, such as the size, layout, occupancy, and fire risk of the building, as well as the budget, preferences, and needs of the owner or manager. However, some of the top-rated fire alarm panel brands in the market are Siemens, Honeywell, Kidde, Bosch, and Fike.

Those brands offer various types and features of fire alarm panels, such as conventional, addressable, intelligent, wireless, and integrated systems. You can compare their products and reviews online, or consult with a professional fire alarm installer to find the best fire alarm panel for your building.

Wrapping Up on FACP Fire Alarm Control Panels

In conclusion, a Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP) is the central hub of a fire alarm system. It acts as the brain of the system, receiving signals from detectors and alarms, interpreting their meaning, and triggering pre-programmed responses.

Understanding the definition of an FACP, how it works, and the various components of the fire alarm system is crucial for building safety, as this vital device plays a critical role in detecting potential fires and initiating swift responses to safeguard occupants and property.