Don't combine the fire alarm system with the security system; combining never works well. Besides being harder for you to operate the systems when combined (just the buttons and other controls are more complicated), when there is a problem with one, there is automatically a problem with the other.
In the long term, cost of servicing combined systems is a problem. When combined, it is more complicated for whoever services the systems, and that costs more.
The one size fits all is really one size fits no-one. You are better off with two different brands of equipment because each brand can specialize as either fire alarm or security.
All brands of panel are proprietary to one extent to another. The difference you need to look for is that there are at least 3 independent companies that can service and program whatever systems you use. Especially look for the ability to program the panel. If only one independent company can program the panel, you are stuck with whatever service they give, at whatever cost they charge.
Ease of Operation - Fire Alarm
Most people fail to look at how easy or hard a system is to operate. Their system may be hard to operate or easy to operate, but almost no one finds out until after the system is installed, and then they're stuck with whatever is given them.
Check with other system users around town. Go to them and ask their maintenance people to explain to you how to operate their system. If they have trouble explaining to you how to silence or reset the system, you will have trouble explaining the system to your volunteers and employees.
You will have a screen, but stay away from touch screens. Touch screens look nice and feel nice, but during an emergency all they do is require attention to the screen rather than paying attention to the emergency. Go with simple buttons instead.
For the fire alarm system, the controls should be intuitive. Without much training, most authorized people should at least be able to turn off the local sounder in the panel. The most important buttons for you are:
- Reset - The button should be labeled that way.
- Silence Alarms - It might say Silence Notification, Silence Signals, or some such, but it turns off the horns and strobes around the building.
- Panel Silence - It might say Trouble Silence or ACK (Acknowledge).
- Scroll Buttons - These should be easy to operate.
Ease of Operation - Security
These are always more complicated to operate. Sorry. That's another reason that the security system should not also be part of the fire alarm system.
Remember, it's not the installing company that needs to operate the system, it's your employees and volunteers that have to understand how to use the system. Check around town for how easy or hard the system is to arm and disarm. Pay attention to how to stop alarms and how to find out which doors are open, preventing the arming of the system.