Digitize’s Prism LX Monitoring System Protects UPenn

By Justin Sagalow

November 4, 2022

The University of Pennsylvania, commonly referred to as UPenn, is an Ivy League research university located in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded by Ben Franklin in the 1740s, it is an internationally renowned academic institution that has produced United States Presidents, Olympic Gold Medalists, and the greatest number of undergraduate billionaire alumni of all colleges.


This is Huntsman Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. This picture displays UPenn's location in the middle of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

However, it is also a very geographically small campus located in the middle of the sixth-largest city in the United States. To put this in perspective, its 147 university buildings are all contained within three square miles. UPenn’s location in such a densely-populated area has provided them with certain fire alarm monitoring challenges that have required creative problem-solving and dedicated maintenance.

Digitize has had a relationship with UPenn for over 30 years. Throughout those 30 years, we, along with our dedicated Pennsylvania-based distributor N-Tech Systems Inc., have tirelessly worked with the university to overcome any challenges they have encountered and continuously optimize their fire alarm monitoring system.

The challenges of monitoring a campus in a city

When we first started working with UPenn, their fire alarm system consisted of a bundle of 200 copper wires and phone lines that monitored alarms throughout the campus. The limitations of this alarm management method became apparent to the university after a few incidents involving nearby city construction projects. In one such incident, a construction crew had hit the aforementioned cable bundle, damaging its connection and putting a significant portion of the entire campus alarm monitoring system offline. In another incident, a construction crew was drilling through concrete infrastructure located above the university’s central monitoring location. At the time, they were unaware of the existence of an active monitoring center underneath the construction site. When they successfully penetrated the concrete flooring, the water used to cool the drill tip made contact with the monitoring equipment, essentially destroying the entire alarm monitoring system.

This led to a very long and costly construction project, in no small part due to the expenses of employing a firewatch to manually take on all alarm monitoring duties. Determined to protect their alarm monitoring system from further incidents, UPenn conceded that they needed more than a one-size-fits-all monitoring solution. They needed a custom fire solution, so they came to the experts.

Digitize and N-Tech reviewed UPenn’s case and arrived at one main conclusion. Both of the incidents involving the previous fire protection system had illuminated the fact that UPenn’s system had a single point of failure. In both situations, physical damage sustained to one part of the system had resulted in a total loss of monitoring capability throughout the campus.

To overcome the challenge of monitoring a campus in the middle of a busy city where construction projects are frequent and mishaps are unpredictable, UPenn needed a system that excelled in reliability, adaptability, and communication. Digitize and N-Tech worked with UPenn to design a system that consisted of unobstructive architecture and several communication points.

Digitize and N-Tech design custom solutions for clients

Both Digitize and N-Tech Understood that UPenn required a system that could continuously interact with itself, detect and work around any interruptions in this communication, and report all of the aforementioned data, along with all standard alarm information, to a remote center in a safe location. We also knew that limiting the amount of obstructive cabling was paramount to minimizing any risk of injury to the system. After UPenn’s prior experiences with off-campus construction crews, they were interested in transitioning to a system that eschewed the use of phone lines and copper wiring. Additionally, their ordeal with expensive firewatch services, and subsequent willingness to avoid ever using them again, functioned as convincing proof of the ROI afforded to them by a Digitize IP-based alarm monitoring system.

After meeting with N-Tech and Digitize, UPenn agreed to replace their copper wire-based system with one consisting of fiber cables. UPenn themselves also insisted this fiber cable network would be equipped with multiple redundant head end units to avoid any future instances of total alarm monitoring loss throughout the campus. Digitize actually went as far as constructing and extensively testing a replica of this fiber network at their own facility. Digitize and N-Tech commonly take such steps to oversee the efficacy of their work and troubleshoot any complications before presenting it to clients.

Once the system had been sufficiently tested, Digitize and N-Tech set out to integrate it into the UPenn campus. The final iteration of the system designed and installed by Digitize and N-Tech consisted of five Digitize System 3505 head end units strategically placed throughout the campus, all connected to the fiber cable loop.

prism lx central display screen

This is an image of a Prism LX central display screen. For those who wish to monitor their fire monitoring system instead of hiring a third party service to do it, the prism lx is one example of a readily available server on the market.

The installation process occurred between 2014 and 2015. In each of the campus’ 147 buildings, we installed a Digitize VersAlarm Ethernet Monitoring System. These VersAlarms receive alerts and updates from the building’s fire alarm control panels via contact closures. The VersAlarms send all of this information to the System 3505 units via Ethernet and by way of the fiber network. Therefore, there are switches placed between each VersAlarm and 3505 unit to adapt Ethernet cables to fiber and fiber to Ethernet, respectively. This IP-based alarm system allows for information to be transmitted to several locations safely and instantly.

versalarm 8 zone Ethernet monitoring system

This is an image of a Digitize VersAlarm™ Panel. The Digitize VersAlarm™ panel connects to a Digitize System 3505 Prism Lx. It can be programmed to report to up to 10 IP addresses. The number of IP addresses can be expanded beyond 10 upon request.

Of the five 3505 units employed in this system, one was assigned the role of the primary console, and repeatedly made contact with both the VersAlarms and the other 3505 units. If this 3505 unit went offline, one of the other four 3505 units would report this and automatically be reassigned to function as the acting primary unit until the dormant unit came back online.

N-Tech and Digitize went to each of the 147 university buildings and verified that all fire alarm control panels in each building were reporting to two separate remote monitoring locations, both outfitted with two of the five System 3505 units. One of these locations is an on-campus monitoring station, the standard for all campuses that opt to monitor their own alarms, and the other is a UPenn public safety office located nearby off campus. In the event of an alert, response teams located both on campus and nearby in the city would be notified with specific information regarding the building, floor and room containing the triggered alarm. As far as notification devices on campus, in addition to the alarms typical of any building, some of the campus’ buildings have devices equipped to relay a prerecorded message reminding people of proper emergency protocol.

Give Digitize a call today to discuss your fire alarm monitoring system

Since the initial installation, Digitize and N-Tech have returned to UPenn to conduct routine maintenance and replace the system 3505 head end units with five of Digitize’s newest model, the Digitize System 3505 Prism LX™ Supervised Bidirectional Polling Alarm Monitoring System.

The Prism LX builds on the features provided by the old 3505 units, adding a color graphic display, the ability to monitor thousands of active alarm points simultaneously, and in any combination of multiplex, telegraph / McCullough codes, direct-wire, digital dialer, network, polling radio, and serial input alarm signals, as well as Ethernet utilizing the AlarmLan, and additional programmable features.

UPenn has consistently praised their new fire alarm monitoring system and have not reported about encountering any of the complications that plagued them before seeking out a custom fire protection system solution from Digitize and N-Tech.

Justin Sagalow

Justin Sagalow

Justin Sagalow is quite uniquely qualified for his Marketing Writer Position at Digitize. Arriving at Digitize with experience in law, finance, and editorial positions, Justin's skillset allow him to effectively communicate how best Digitize can address each client's individual needs. From his...Read More