Resources to Obtain Upon Completion of a Commercial Fire Alarm System

Commercial fire alarm systems are not at the forefront of most customers’ minds when they are taking delivery of a new or renovated property. However, there are some items which you should make sure are provided to you by the fire alarm company before they close out the fire alarm project.

Some of these items are specifically required to be in possession of the property manager / owner by code, and some are simply good practice and are useful to take note of:

  • An electronic copy of the fire alarm system programming on a USB Thumb Drive or CD-ROM. Most code requires that a copy of these be on site so that a fire alarm panel that has a catastrophic crash can be replaced and re-loaded as quickly as possible.

  • A paper printout of the fire alarm panel programming. There should be a copy of this on site as a reference as well as stored in a safe off-site location.

  • NFPA Code requires new systems to be tested following certain standards and procedures. They provide an inspection form which includes all of the information that should be collected at the time of testing. If the fire marshal comes to your location they may ask for this document to be produced as evidence of inspection at the time of installation. This document should be prepared by the company who installs the fire alarm system.

  • A Fire Alarm inspection report will need to be prepared and available to present to the fire marshal upon request.  The standard form to use can be found in NFPA 72.  Violations will need to be notated and documented on this form as well

  • Red line plans of your system design. This will include any changes made, during the on-the-ground installation, to the original design set. This would most likely include any variations in the pathway where wires are run. You can optionally pay to have you installer update the original CAD files to include these changes.

  • A copy of the fire alarm plans stamped by the fire alarm engineer / designer and the city or county authority. This should be retained as evidence that the plans were designed by a credentialed engineer and approved by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) if that is ever called into question.

  • A soft copy (CAD file) of the original fire alarm design including any calculations performed as a part of the installation. This can be very helpful if the system is every extended or modified and new submittals need to be prepared. Also, if the original paper plans are damaged or lost a new copy may be printed.

  • Warranty certificates and timeframes specifying who is providing the warranties on each component of the system and how long those warranties last.

Rarely do we see these elements kept with fire alarm systems or passed on to the owners and managers of a property. Often we find that costs must be incurred to address these requirements down the road if the information is not provided and managed up front.

Make this a part of your standard checklist for taking over management of new projects or developing new real estate projects to ensure your information is up to date, up to code, readily available and backed up.

Digital Chain of Custody for MOBOTIX Video Cameras

Video surveillance has become so commonplace throughout the security industry of the United States and many other countries, that it is now even used for private residences and in personal safety.  However, for a surveillance video to be admissible in court as hard evidence, it must be carefully stored and transported using a very specific digital chain of custody.  If the video cannot be authenticated, then it may be deemed unusable as a credible source, and therefore will not be allowed as evidence in a criminal court.  

A video from our MOBOTIX cameras give you a great piece of evidence, in order to not only identify a criminal and track them down, but to also ensure that they are brought to justice.  We understand the digital chain of custody that must be implemented in order for your evidence to be transferred properly to the authorities so that it is completely acceptable as admissible evidence during a criminal trial in a court of law.

Jurisdiction is an important factor when determining whether your MOBOTIX digital video will be admissible in court.  Because of this, it is vitally important to understand the legal regulations on admissibility and to adhere to the highest standards of chain of custody tracking.  One of the most important elements of this process is being able to present a record of both file transfers from one device or file type to another, along with any physical transport of the digital video. There is no set rule for what exactly will be allowed by a judge, but following a solid digital chain of custody plan is what we provide to ensure that your security video will result in successful prosecution of the criminal.

Digital video use in court would be much simpler if the original recording device was being used during the court case.  However, playback from the original recording device is often difficult or not possible.   As such, the digital file has to be transferred from one storage device to another before the video reaches the court's final playback device.  

Because of the fact that many of the video surveillance systems use proprietary software and recording formats, retaining the quality and authentication information when transferring the data can be very tricky.  As the file is transferred, deterioration in the quality, or lack of vital data about the origin of the file, could result in it being deemed inadmissible as evidence in a criminal trial.  If the digital chain of custody is not perfect, the video of the suspect could be ruled inadmissible, and the criminal could be found innocent due to a lack of sufficient evidence.

Every step of the transfer, from the MOBOTIX to the courtroom, must be documented and witnessed in order to prove that it is an exact copy of the original recording.

The MOBOTIX IP cameras have been designed to provide the user with a large portion of the authentication information that is necessary in order to make the digital video admissible in court.  One great feature is the digital signing that your camera produces.  All data recorded by the camera is signed with the camera’s X.509 Certificate.  This means that it uses a system of public key cryptography to ensure that it cannot be altered.  This signing is accompanied by a digital image "fingerprint" which is connected to the file itself, and contains important data about the camera along with the sequences of images stored on the hard drive.  This makes the MOBOTIX camera and storage system which we use a highly secure method of encrypting video files.

In order to use this feature of the MOBOTIX camera, you must first enable digital signing.  If you need help with this, we will be glad to assist you.

In order to enable digital signing:

  1. Launch a web browser and enter the IP address of your MOBOTIX camera.
  2. Click >> Setup Menu >> Event Control >> Recording (click More)
  3. Set Digital Signing to "On"
  4. Digitial_sign_blog_1

The camera will now use a Self-Signed X.509 certificate. The self-signed certificate is one signed with its own private key.

A customized X.509 Certificate can be created here:

Admin Menu  >>  Network Setup  >>  Web Server page  

The Self-Signed certificate is the fastest option in terms of setup time and is sufficient for most circumstances where the original signing certificate can be produced as part of the court verification process.

In order to ensure integrity this camera software, the MxControlCenter, is capable of verifying the authenticity of the events recorded on video, along with checking to ensure that the Digital Signature has not been tampered with.  This way the court will know that nothing has been done to alter the video, or to change the original image in order to misrepresent what happened in the recorded evidence.

The final critical step of the process is maintaining an accurate physical chain of custody along with a physical record of every step of the file transfer process.  For each transfer, whether from camera to hard disk, or whatever type of media storage device you are using for the transfer, you must have a written record of exactly what was done.  Each step of this record must be signed and dated by an authorized person, along with being signed and dated by a witness.  Without this, the information can be deemed inadmissible in court.

Urban Alarm can configure this, at no additional cost, for customer with Video Maintenance service agreement.