Skip to content

U Penn Puts Out the Fire

​The University of Pennsylvania (U Penn), located in Philadelphia, is an urban college campus with 147 buildings tucked into only 3 square miles. Therefore, an effective fire life safety system is critical, says Eugene Janda, CFPS (certified fire protection specialist), chief of fire and emergency services for the university.

Previously the campus fire system had a single point of failure, meaning that if one network panel malfunctioned, the whole system was thrown offline. 

Additionally, the system was based on copper wiring and phone lines, which led to an incident when digging was being done for a construction project off-campus. The crews hit a large cable containing phone lines, and “in the final analysis we lost a lot of monitoring capability throughout our alarm systems,” Janda says. “That’s how we came to the decision that we wanted to upgrade and reduce our risk of having failures again.” 

Janda adds that U Penn was trying to reduce the use of phone lines in the system overall. “There are issues as phone lines get older,” he notes. “They’re underground, water gets into them, and they stop transmitting for a while, and sometimes they dry out and transmit again.” 

U Penn put out a request for proposals for a new fire system vendor, and three departments—the public safety division, facilities, and real estate services—reviewed the bidders. Together they selected Digitize Inc.’s System 3505, an IP-based alarm monitoring solution.  

The IP-based solution meant that the university would replace the old copper wiring system with fiber optic cables, which use light to transmit signals. This allows for a quicker signal to the central monitoring station. 

Before beginning the installation in late 2014, Digitize conducted a round of testing at one of its factories. It created a digital replica of U Penn’s fire system, even naming buildings the same as those on campus. This allowed the vendor to troubleshoot before actually putting the system in place. 

“They ran it through numerous tests to make sure that what we were getting was going to be able to perform as we expected it to perform,” Janda notes. 

The installation was a lengthy process because it was completed building by building, and Digitize had to certify that, at each location, the panels were operating and reporting back to the two central monitoring stations—one in the public safety division and the other at the university operations control center. From those two locations, operators have visibility into all alarms and failures in the system. 

The Digitize installation was completed in the fall of 2015. Instead of just one processing system, the university now has five processing units around campus. 

“That increases our chances of not having any failure,” Janda says. It has also cut down on the number of service calls that technicians have to make to the system. 

In case of a fire, the two monitoring systems pick up the signal that tells them exactly where in the building the incident is happening. The emergency services department also has a phone line that rings directly to the local police and fire departments.  

There are a total of 139 fire alarm panels on campus that report into the main fire network. A few of the buildings have voice over IP fire alarms, which have a prerecorded message that tells people what to do in the event of a fire. 

Janda says that the emergency services department follows all the local fire codes and requirements for academic and residential buildings on campus. 

“We just make sure that we meet and exceed those standards,” he says. “We’re very thorough in our efforts to make sure that we test our alarm systems and make sure that people know what to do when an alarm sounds.” 

With Digitize, Janda says he’s confident there will be an immediate response in the event of a fire. “With this fire alarm system, if something happens inside one of our buildings, it can be immediately investigated and mitigated.”​

For more information: Digitize,, [email protected], 800.523.7232