The Critical Importance of Systems Interface Testing in Integrated Building Safety

As an essential safety inspection business with 25 years of experience, we have witnessed firsthand the near devastating consequences of assuming that periodic equipment servicing alone is sufficient to ensure the safety of building occupants. Too often, Owners Corporation Managers and committee members believe that their buildings are fully protected because they adhere to monthly, quarterly, and annual testing regimes for their safety equipment. However, without comprehensive Systems Interface Testing, you cannot be certain that all components will function correctly together in an emergency.

What is Systems Interface Testing?

Systems Interface Testing involves verifying that all essential safety systems in a building - such as fire alarms, sprinkler systems, smoke control systems, and emergency lighting-work together seamlessly. In many modern buildings, these systems are coordinated centrally through a Fire Indicator Panel (FIP). This panel is the nerve centre that ensures various safety measures activate in harmony during an emergency. Each building with such a Panel should have had designed a matrix that details how the system works in unison. This matrix is known as a cause and effect matrix. For each “cause” of the system being triggered, there is an expected “effect” in how the safety systems interact for example, when a smoke detector senses smoke, this should trigger the alarm sounding on 2 floors up and one down, the emergency fire doors in the corridor to shut, and the stairs to be pressurised in the block effected.

The Role of AS1851

The Australian Standard AS1851 provides a framework for the maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment, including guidelines for testing and inspection. While AS1851 references systems interface testing, it does not specify the exact frequency or conditions under which these tests should be conducted. This lack of specificity can lead to complacency, with some building managers assuming that routine servicing is sufficient.

Why Routine Servicing is Not Enough

Regular servicing focuses on individual components, ensuring that each piece of equipment functions correctly on its own. However, emergencies require these systems to work together seamlessly. Without Systems Interface Testing, there is no guarantee that a functioning smoke alarm will trigger the sprinkler system or that emergency lighting will activate during a power outage. It is this coordination of responses that a systems interface test will establish.

The Importance of Systems Interface Testing

Consider this: during a routine inspection, our team discovered that the stair pressurisation system in a high-rise building prevented fire doors from being opened. In an emergency, this malfunction could have trapped occupants, leading to tragic outcomes. This is just one example of why Systems Interface Testing is essential. Here are a few more:

  1. Smoke Control Systems: In one instance, we found that the smoke extraction system in a shopping centre did not activate in coordination with the fire alarm system. This failure could have allowed smoke to spread, endangering lives.
  2. Sprinkler and Alarm Coordination: At a commercial office building, we discovered that the sprinkler system activated as expected, but the fire alarm did not sound. This delay in alerting occupants could have resulted in slower evacuations and greater risk.
  3. Emergency Lighting: During a test at a residential complex, we found that the emergency lighting system failed to turn on in one of the stairwells, creating a hazardous environment for evacuation.

Implementing Systems Interface Testing

To ensure the safety of your building's occupants, it is crucial to implement a comprehensive Systems Interface Testing program. This program should:

  • Involve All Safety Systems: Ensure that all fire safety, smoke control, emergency lighting, and other relevant systems are included in the testing.
  • Regularly Scheduled Tests: While AS1851 does not specify exact intervals, aim to conduct these tests at least annually, and more frequently if your building undergoes significant changes or renovations.
  • Professional Oversight: Engage experienced safety auditors who understand the intricacies of integrated systems and can monitor the participants actions and identify potential points of failure.


The safety of building occupants hinges on more than just regular equipment servicing. Systems Interface Testing is a critical component of a comprehensive safety strategy, ensuring that all systems work together as intended in an emergency. By committing to regular (annual), thorough interface testing, Owners Corporation Managers and committee members can provide true peace of mind, knowing their buildings are genuinely safe.

For more information on how to implement Systems Interface Testing and ensure compliance with AS1851, Contact your Focus Auditor, or reach out to us at Contact US. Together, we can build a safer future for all occupants.