Combination Alarm Panels - Pros and Cons

By Brian Rhodes, Published on Nov 27, 2012

Combination alarm panels sell the promise of doing more with less. Instead of multiple systems, a combo panel does everything in one box - intrusion, fire, access, video, etc. In this note, we review 'combo' systems, examine the pros and cons of an 'all-in-one' design, and recommend most suitable applications.

Combo Panels Defined

True to their name, these units combine several systems in an enclosure, sharing common PCB boards and a single controlling firmware. Combo panelstypically combine two or more of the following:

  • Intrusion (burglar) Alarms
  • Fire Detection (smoke/waterflow/heat) Alarms
  • Access Control
  • Video Surveillance: Some panels  integrate cameras into the panel for small-scale monitoring and recording
  • Building Management: Thermostats, lighting controls, and water leak detection are becoming common additions to multifunction systems.

These systems are typically for smaller deployments. With everything combined into one box, the total number of sensors is often capped and the management capabilities are limited to simple commands. The video clip below is a manufacturer's promotional video for a combo system, where all system devices (including fire/burglar/and access control) are run to a main control panel:

Centrally Monitored

Unlike enterprise and large scale alarm systems that are designed to be monitored on site by security staff or building management personnel, combo panels are primarily designed to be monitored offsite by a central monitoring station.

Because the monitoring is designed to be done off-site, administration and configuration of the system is done via keypad, control software run on a serially connected computer, or by remote web browser. The restrictions against on site management of the alarms further contributes against deployment in large scale applications.

Combo Panel System Examples

Most large alarm system manufacturers offer some type of combined system in a single enclosure. The most frequent pairings offered are Fire/Burglar Alarm panels, with a smaller subset offering Access Control integration. The newest functions, like video and building management features typically are partially hosted for storage and remote access.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Popular Systems include the following -

  • Ademco: Vista-128FBP Fire/Burg System [link no longer available]: Up to 128 points of control, and up to 8 doors of access control with VISTAKEY module. Distribution Price: ~$500 USD
  • Napco: GEMC-Combo255KT [link no longer available]: Up to 255 points of control, and up to 8 doors or access control with Gemini Access. Distribution Price: ~$700 USD
  • UTC/GE: Concord Express [link no longer available]: Up to 22 points of control (16 wireless), with no access control. Distribution Price: ~$180 USD
  • Bosch: D9412GV4-B Kit [link no longer available]: Up to 246 points of control, and up to 8 doors of access control integration. Dealer Pricing varies, but is in the sub $600 range [link no longer available].

Combo Advantages

Regardless of specific manufacturer, some general benefits of 'all-in-one' panels frequently cited are:

  • Cheaper: Combo systems are often less expensive to purchase and install than stand-alone systems. The cost of system hardware is lower due to shared processing, and the cost to install systems are lower with only one enclosure (or 'can') to hang.
  • Quicker: Because combo systems are oriented towards the small/medium market, they often can be 'pre-programmed' before install with a template program rather than 'scratch programmed' on site. Because the total population of devices and/or alarm zones is lower, installation takes less time and effort.
  • Reduced Cabling: Some combo systems can be wired using a 'common bus'; or a single wiring pathway from a group of sensors back to the main panel.

Combo Disadvantages

Until the 2007 update to NFPA 72, combo panel-based systems were subject to local approval by AHJ. Even now, while the code supports installation of multi-purpose systems, bias remains against their use. Use of Combo Panels in some municipalities may be a point of contention. While this can be easily addressed by sharing the revised code, some of the marked disadvantages of combo panels continue to be:

  • Less Reliable: The biggest knock on combo systems are the reduced reliability of the individual systems. When components in the panel fail, multiple systems are affected. Also, with the focus on low price, less robust electronic design and components are often used in a combo panels. Overall, the overall reliability of combo systems is less than commercial enterprise grade alarm systems.
  • Less Expandable: The total capacity of combo systems are often capped to a finite number of devices, and the ability to connect panels together is rudimentary or not possible. Exceeding the device limit means installing another (independent) alarm system - a step that may not be permissible by code or approved by the AHJ.
  • 'Universal' Installers Uncommon: Field technicians and installers that are skilled in the particularities of Intrusion, Fire, Access Control, and other combined systems is uncommon. Each type of system requires it's own body of knowledge on sensor placement, installation technique, and configuration. While a combo product may be easily purchased, obtaining competent installation may not be so easy to come by; especially not in the low-margin SMB market dominated by 'trunkslammer' alarm companies.

Recommendations

Based on our experience, small and simple systems will benefit from the cheaper cost of a combo system. For end users that do not need a high degree of situational awareness or manageability, a combo alarm system permits an economic consolidation of systems to one box. However, larger enterprise and self-monitoring users will need the scalability and management features of discrete systems.

Comments : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

LSP Presents 2nd Generation FP Power Supplies on Apr 29, 2020
Life Safety Power (LSP) presented its FP2 power supply in the April 2020 IPVM...
ZKTeco Presents SpeedFace Recognition + Body Temperature Detection on Apr 21, 2020
ZKTeco presented its SF1008+ reader with body temperature and face mask...
'Bunker Busting' Wireless Access Startup: Sure-Fi Profile on Oct 03, 2019
An access startup is claiming its 'bunker busting' wireless Wiegand radios...
Access Credential Form Factor Tutorial on Feb 10, 2020
Deciding which access control credential to use and distribute, including...
Use Access Control Logs To Constrain Coronavirus on Apr 09, 2020
Access control users have included capabilities that are not commonly used...
Breaking Into A Facility Using Canned Air Tested on Jan 28, 2020
Access control is supposed to make doors more secure, but a $5 can of...
Ubiquiti Access Control Tested on Oct 21, 2020
Ubiquiti has become one of the most widely used wireless and switch providers...
Embedded Logix Thermal Temperature Detection System Examined on Apr 08, 2020
Embedded Logix has been producing thermal temperature measurement systems for...
Exit Devices For Access Control Tutorial on Aug 25, 2020
Exit Devices, also called 'Panic Bars' or 'Crash Bars' are required by safety...
How Mobile Access Control Can and Cannot Help With Coronavirus on Mar 23, 2020
With coronavirus concerns continuing to rise, many access control companies...
BICSI For IP Video Surveillance Guide on Feb 11, 2020
Spend enough time around networks and eventually someone will mention BICSI,...
Add Door Operators To Fight Coronavirus on Mar 31, 2020
IPVM recommends that integrators advocate and end-users consider adding door...
The Access Control Codes Guide: IBC, NFPA 72, 80 & 101 on Nov 07, 2019
For access, there is one basic maxim: Life safety above all else. But how do...
HID Releases VertX Replacement Aero on Aug 10, 2020
HID is replacing two established and broadly supported types of access...
Wyze Smart Door Lock Test on Jan 14, 2020
Wyze's inexpensive cameras have grabbed the attention of many in the consumer...

Recent Reports

ISC Brasil Digital Experience 2020 Report on Oct 23, 2020
ISC Brasil 2020 rebranded itself to ISC Digital Experience and, like its...
Top Video Surveillance Service Call Problems 2020 on Oct 23, 2020
3 primary and 4 secondary issues stood out as causing the most problems when...
GDPR Impact On Temperature / Fever Screening Explained on Oct 22, 2020
What impact does GDPR have on temperature screening? Do you risk a GDPR fine...
Security And Safety Things (S&ST) Tested on Oct 22, 2020
S&ST, a Bosch spinout, is spending tens of millions of dollars aiming to...
Nokia Fever Screening Claims To "Advance Fight Against COVID-19" on Oct 22, 2020
First IBM, then briefly Clorox, and now Nokia becomes the latest Fortune 500...
Deceptive Meridian Temperature Tablets Endanger Public Safety on Oct 21, 2020
IPVM's testing of and investigation into Meridian Kiosk's temperature...
Honeywell 30 Series and Vivotek NVRs Tested on Oct 21, 2020
The NDAA ban has driven many users to look for low-cost NVRs not made by...
Ubiquiti Access Control Tested on Oct 21, 2020
Ubiquiti has become one of the most widely used wireless and switch providers...
Avigilon Aggressive Trade-In Program Takes Aim At Competitors on Oct 20, 2020
Avigilon has launched one of the most aggressive trade-in programs the video...
Mexico Video Surveillance Market Overview 2020 on Oct 20, 2020
Despite being neighbors, there are key differences between the U.S. and...
Dahua Revenue Grows But Profits Down, Cause Unclear on Oct 20, 2020
While Dahua's overall revenue was up more than 12% in Q3 2020, a significant...
Illegal Hikvision Fever Screening Touted In Australia, Government Investigating, Temperature References Deleted on Oct 20, 2020
The Australian government told IPVM that they are investigating a Hikvision...
Panasonic Presents i-PRO Cameras and Video Analytics on Oct 19, 2020
Panasonic i-PRO presented its X-Series cameras and AI video analytics at the...
Augmented Reality (AR) Cameras From Hikvision and Dahua Examined on Oct 19, 2020
Hikvision, Dahua, and other China companies are marketing augmented reality...
18 TB Video Surveillance Drives (WD and Seagate) on Oct 19, 2020
Both Seagate and Western Digital recently announced 18TB hard drives...