With conventional fire alarm panels, there will be multiple devices on a zone, so if any of the devices on that zone go into alarm, you’ll get an alarm at the panel that will say “Zone Alarm.” It will also tell you what zone, as they’re numbered. This means that if an alarm comes in, it will tell you the area of the building that the alarm is in, but not a specific location since it could be any of the devices on that circuit. You would then have to walk around in that area looking at the devices to try and determine which one caused the alarm.
Addressable systems allow you to set an address on the field device, normally a 3-digit number, and then tell the panel what and where that device is located. If you get an alarm, you will see something like: “Alarm Smoke Detector (Address: 023) 1st Floor Hall at Room 102.” These systems will provide a specific location where the alarm and what type of device caused the alarm. This is a big help in response times for the fire department or the customer. It also gives you the ability to individually program each device so if you have one smoke detector and one duct detector right next to each other, you can program one to send an alarm and the other to just send a supervisory and not set of the horns and strobes. On a conventional panel, every device on the same circuit would report the same.
The fire alarm control panel on an addressable system receives information and status reports from each device and indicates its exact location if there is smoke or fire.