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In-Building Public Safety Communications Toolkit

What’s Inside: Why Should I Read This?

Most fire and building codes now include specific requirements for In-Building Public Safety Communications. In this document, we’ll go over what you need to know about:

  • Why these requirements are in place
  • What the consequences of non-adherence might be
  • How to achieve compliance (in a general sense), and where there may be similarities in existing infrastructure
  • Why your building/organization should have a Wireless Infrastructure Master Plan
  • The Myths, truths, and best practices of In-Building Public Safety Communications Systems

Why Did We Create This Toolkit?

We want to work together with building owners and property managers to ensure that each building in their portfolio meets the local, state, and federal in-building public safety requirements and that their systems do so in the most reliable and cost-effective manner.

As new buildings are erected, they have to undergo a variety of inspections, including plumbing and electrical, to receive their Certificate of Occupancy. However, many building codes now require public safety communications systems (Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems [ERCES]), and your building could be denied its Certificate of Occupancy without one. Adding an in-building public safety communications system after construction has been completed can be an incredibly costly endeavor and could delay the opening of your building by months.

This guide will provide you with the information you need to know to avoid costly and expensive delays.

In today’s mobile, wireless age, having a strong, reliable wireless signal within a building is nearly a non-negotiable requirement. In fact, nearly 80% of all wireless data traffic originates or terminates within a building.

In addition to ensuring that building occupants can conduct their business and personal activities – ranging from voice or video calls to operating wireless POS systems – property owners must also ensure the safety of building tenants, visitors, and any first responders who may arrive on the scene.

Pillars of In-Building Public Safety Communications

Mobile 911 Calls
and Texts

The primary function of in-building public safety communications is to ensure that in an emergency, 911 calls made from mobile devices are able to be completed and that location accuracy is achieved.

Mobile Mass

During natural disasters or emergencies, mobile mass notification alerts must reach all building occupants to ensure their safety.

First Responder Communications

As first responders arrive on the scene, they must be able to communicate efficiently, effectively, and reliably to coordinate their response and save lives.

What Are Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES)?

ERCES ensure that, upon arriving at the scene of an incident, first responders and other public safety personnel have the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently both inside and outside of the building. In large buildings, public safety communications equipment is unlikely to work with an ERCES to distribute signals throughout the entire building. This is especially true for specific areas within the building, like stairwells, elevators, storage closets, and below-grade rooms and parking garages.

What Is A Distributed Antenna System (DAS)?

TRBOMAX South Carolina Towe

Distributed Antenna Systems amplify existing signals and circumvent physical obstacles that prevent the signal from reaching its entire intended coverage area. One of the ways this is accomplished is by positioning antennas outside of a building to capture the signal and then positioning the antenna so that it’s pointed in the direction that needs coverage. 

Public Safety Communications systems frequently us private radio frequency bands that are licensed for use by the FCC. However, an ERCES is also likely to include access to the nationwide public safety broadband network, supported by the FirstNet Authority. 

In order to ensure that they meet the requirements of the NFPA and IFC, DAS must be designed, installed, maintained, and monitored by qualified personnel. Additionally, the FCC has a large amount of oversight into ERCES to ensure that they do not interfere with existing public safety radio systems or other users on licensed radio frequencies.

What Is The Nationwide First Responder Broadband Network?

After the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), public safety agencies throughout the United States banded together and successfully lobbied Congress to establish a single, interoperable network dedicated to voice and data communications and to be administered by a new entity called the FirstNet Authority. 

Designated by Congress as a public safety spectrum, the 700 MHz Band is unavailable to commercial operators, has excellent properties for first responder communications, and can easily penetrate buildings and walls, as well as cover large geographic areas.

Types of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS)

Property developers can choose between two primary types of Distributed Antenna Systems – active DAS and passive DAS – to provide an amplified signal to their properties. However, the two solutions are not equal, with each option being better suited to specific scenarios than the other. 

While an Active DAS can essentially generate its own network signal, a Passive DAS relies on an already adequate signal to pull from in order to redistribute and amplify it.

Active DAS

Active Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) are the best solution for extremely large buildings (500,000 square feet or more) such as airports, convention centers, or stadiums. They are costly and time-consuming to deploy as the process involves putting up an individual antenna for each carrier for which the building would like to provide service. However, for buildings where the signal needs to cover a large footprint and provide services for huge groups of people, they are the best solution to ensure that each device has an adequate signal.

Passive DAS

Unlike Active DAS, Passive Distributed Antenna Systems are a much less expensive and time-consuming solution to deploy. They’re best for buildings up to 100,000 square feet but can be scaled up to 500,000 square feet. Passive DAS utilizes a combination of coaxial cable, splitters, and diplexers to distribute the signal and bi-directional amplifiers to re-broadcast the signal using either a small-cell antenna or a donor antenna.

System Integrator Checklist

  •   Integrator has a combination of technical, regulatory, and project management expertise
  •   Integrator has provided ERCES installations for at least 5 years
  •   Integrator has the following certifications/licenses:
    •   NICET
    •   GROL (General Radio Operator License)
  •   Integrator has training, certification, and access to iBwave (or similar RF Design software)
  •   Integrator has the necessary training and certification from relevant equipment manufacturers

Wireless Infrastructure Master Planning: Why You Need It and What To Include

By maintaining a wireless infrastructure master plan, you will be able to easily visualize and inventory the various components of the wireless networks supporting your building’s operations. This will, in turn, help you to ensure coverage and remain competitive.

cellular enhancements improve coverage in large and tall buildings

Ensure Coverage

Your plan will help you ensure that your building provides services for voice and cellular services, first responder communications, IoT devices, and the next generation of wireless services.

In Building Wireless Technician

Remain Competitive

As a property owner, your job is to ensure your buildings are safe, and secure, and in line with various health, safety, and building codes. Wireless Infrastructure Master Plans allow you to keep a holistic view of building technologies, and – during the construction phase – ensure that they are included in the initial bidding and build-out processes.

Glossary of Terms and Concepts

Codes and Standards

To obtain a Certificate of Occupancy, all new and existing buildings undergoing significant renovation or expansion must provide full indoor coverage as required by the International Fire Code (IFC) for public safety. Additionally, each municipality has its own specifications for public safety radio, making it necessary to have a unique configuration. For Public Safety DAS to comply, it must meet the codes set by IFC and/or NFPA.

AHJ: Authority Having Jurisdiction

In the United States, there are tens of thousands of Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) entities, all of which may vary in its scope and responsibilities. The AHJ could be the fire department, fire marshal, radio shop, sheriff’s department, or inspector who provides the final sign-off for occupancy permission. Some AHJs work independently on these systems, while others collaborate to create a compliant system that satisfies all parties.

Furthermore, each AHJ may interpret IFC or NFPA codes differently. Therefore, the design, installation, commissioning, and testing of a DAS System must adhere to that specific interpretation to obtain approval for the Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement System (ERCES). To avoid delays in the approval process, it is highly recommended to engage with the AHJ early in the project. Delays may occur due to alarming, cable pathway protection, battery backup, and insufficient RF coverage in critical areas like stairwells and boiler rooms.

License Holder

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is accountable for regulating and granting licenses for private radio frequencies, also known as wireless spectrum, to both commercial and non-commercial users, such as local, county, and state governments. These users include those of public safety, commercial and non-commercial fixed and mobile wireless services, broadcast television and radio, satellite services, and other services. The Commission’s role in granting spectrum licenses is to foster effective and dependable access to the spectrum for innovative applications while also prioritizing public safety and emergency response efforts.

System Integrators

Engineering and installation companies with a specialization in Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement System (ERCES) are commonly known as System Integrators. They usually collaborate with electrical contractors to provide all components and expertise necessary for a comprehensive ERCES solution, including design, project management, and testing. When selecting a systems integrator, it is recommended to opt for one with certified RF engineers proficient in in-building design, construction/installation standards, and processes.

Two industry-standard propagation tools for simulating in-building wireless systems’ functionality are iBwave and RANplan. A competent integrator should have experienced construction project managers familiar with the principles of RF propagation and well-versed in the in-building system requirements for public safety and cellular enhancement, including NFPA, IFC, and electrical building codes. System Integrators can handle the entire project as a turnkey solution or provide parts and expertise to a local installation contractor.

System Integrators work with local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) to comprehend and integrate each system’s requirements, resulting in a code-compliant ERCES for the building owner.

Time is Money

To ensure prompt installation and implementation of an Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement System (ERCES), it’s best to plan and incorporate cable routes into the building before construction commences. Unfortunately, building owners are often unaware of the mandated requirements for these systems and learn about them after the building design has been finalized and construction is already underway.

In situations where ceilings have already been installed, it’s recommended to install the ERCES as soon as possible. For high-end projects, it’s advisable to involve the design team during the initial planning stages, as they can provide valuable input regarding antenna locations and physical attributes. Delayed involvement of the design team can lead to Post Approval Amendments (PAA), which can significantly prolong the approval process.

Common Acronyms
  • AHJ: Authority Having Jurisdiction
  • BDA: Bi-Directional Amplifier
  • DAS: Distributed Antenna System
  • ERCES: In-Building Emergency Responder
  • Communication Enhancement System
  • IFC: International Fire Code
  • NFPA: National Fire Protection Association
  • RF: Radio Frequency

Truths, Myths, and Best Practices

Truth: While the international codes serve as a baseline, different jurisdictions may have additional requirements, such as published documents or bulletins outlining their interpretations of the codes. It is crucial to adhere to the AHJ’s interpretation of the code stated in their published documents.

Best Practice: Familiarize yourself with your AHJ and its standards before installing a system.

Truth: The IFC and NFPA codes require property owners to maintain the ERCES by conducting annual inspections. Without maintenance, various factors could impact the system after installation, leading to costly consequences.

Best Practice: Schedule the annual ERCES inspection along with the Fire Alarm inspection and stay up to date with annual inspections to ensure compliance with code requirements and prevent possible negligence fines.

Truth: It’s essential to hire experienced RF engineers and installers to design, install, and test the systems to meet local jurisdictions’ requirements and work in an emergency.

Best Practice: Verify that the same equipment is quoted in the Bill of Materials and ask the systems integrator for their credentials, including manufacturer certification, design certification, test equipment certification, General Radio Operator License (GROL), and a history of work performed in corresponding jurisdictions. Consider NICET certification for in-building public safety communications.

Truth: While a well-designed system is a great start to building a Distributed Antenna System (DAS), it’s crucial to have a skilled installation team to install the components of the DAS correctly, including connectors, couplers, jumpers, and antennas. Coaxial cables may seem robust and durable, but they are fragile and easily damaged. A faulty installation can cause signal interference and impair the system’s performance.

Best Practice: Check the acceptance test documentation provided by the integrator to ensure that all tests have been passed. A thorough commissioning team should have a strong understanding of RF principles and know how to operate RF test equipment to ensure that the DAS operates flawlessly and does not cause harmful interference.

Critical Recommendations for Business Owners

  1. Complete a baseline RF assessment of your building.
  2. Become familiar with your jurisdiction’s current code requirements.
  3. Ensure that your Systems Integration partner is well-qualified.
  4. Consider any future building developments, renovations, or expansions.
  5. New Construction:
    • Consider designing and installing conduits and pathways in advance.
    • Leave room for equipment if needed.
  6. Every frequency included in your system should have written authorization from the relevant FCC License Holder.

Questions and Considerations for Property Stakeholders

In recent years, property owners have recognized the importance of installing public safety systems in their buildings. However, the initial budget for these systems often does not include the necessary safety measures, and installation may cause unexpected damage. Our objective is to educate property owners on the market’s requirements, proper installation processes, trusted partners for installation, and the critical role of Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES) in ensuring community safety.

To evaluate your property’s safety preparedness, consider the following questions:

  1. Can your building(s) facilitate communication between first responders?
  2. Is there a clear and reliable means for your employees and customers in the building(s) to contact 911 on their cell phones?
  3. Is there an emergency mass notification system in place?
  4. Do you have a disaster recovery program for your properties?
  5. Have you implemented a “smart building” strategy to address energy communication, security, and other relevant areas?

About MCA

MCA is one of the largest and most trusted DAS integrators in the United States, offering world-class voice, data, and security solutions that enhance the quality, safety, and productivity of customers, operations, and lives.

More than 65,000 customers trust MCA to provide carefully researched solutions for a safe, secure, and more efficient workplace. As your trusted advisor, we reduce the time and effort needed to research, install, and maintain the right solutions to improve your workplace. 

Our team of certified professionals across the United States delivers a full suite of reliable technologies with a service-first approach. The MCA advantage is our extensive service portfolio to support the solution lifecycle from start to finish.

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