Due to an important element of public safety, building owners and real estate developers alike face numerous roadblocks before buildings can be approved for public use and occupancy. The safety of the public is a primary concern in larger buildings, with the need for first responders to effectively communicate with their team members, occupants and visitors, and vice versa.
Both the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Fire Code (IFC) impose certain requirements on buildings that have been recently constructed. Newly constructed buildings with a minimum area of 50,000 square feet, or below grade buildings with a minimum area of 10,000 square feet, must meet the requirements of a minimum signal strength of 95 dBm in areas designated as "critical", which include stairwells and elevators. For a certificate of occupancy to be awarded, these minimum standards must be met. Failure to do so will result in a certificate of occupancy being withheld until the problem has been addressed and the minimum standards can be proved to be met.
Advanced public safety DAS in-building wireless (IBW) booster systems, bi-directional amplifier (BDA) systems, and Public Safety Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) bridge the coverage gaps in buildings helping them comply with required standards for safety. The cost of installation of systems such as a public safety BDA or public safety DAS can skyrocket for a constructed building compared to a building under construction, making it highly important that contractors, real estate developers, and building owners understand and implement public safety signal requirements during the construction stage.
Understanding a Public Safety BDA, DAS or Enhancement System.
The role of a Public Safety signal enhancement or booster system is to enhance the strength and quality of public safety frequencies including 700-megahertz, 800-megahertz, and 900-megahertz, in critical areas in order to facilitate communication with first responders. The majority of public safety signal boosters such as the SureCall Guardian 4 BDA communication system, have multi-direction and multiple band capabilities to accommodate cell phone signals and public safety signals equally.
Public Safety Communications Common Compliance Codes.
Since local authorities were traditionally allowed to create and adopt their own public safety rules and regulations, a variety of safety codes and building codes currently exist. They are enforced by local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) such as the local fire department chief's office. This confusion is expounded by the fact that different states and in some areas, even at the city level - have the authority to amend codes, apply different standards, and even adopt entirely different fire safety rules. As a result, state and local governments sought ways to standardize fire safety and public safety codes. Today, there're three primary organizations with the power to regulate and standardize public safety compliance at a national level. The organizations, sub-organizations, and public safety standards are as follows:
National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).
The NFPA is the primary organization with authority to define electrical, fire, and miscellaneous safety hazards. Founded in 1896, the NFPA has introduced more than 300 standards and codes since its inception, with more than 200 of these boasting the official backing of the American National Standards Institute. For our purposes, the five most important codes to consider are as follows:
- NFPA 72 sets out benchmarks for the maintenance, performance, and installation of mass notification systems, emergency communication systems, and fire detection systems. Included in this code is the requirement for a minimum of 99% cellular coverage in a building's critical areas, minimum signal strength of -95 dB, and a battery backup power source of at least 24 hours.
- NFPA 70 sets out guidelines for the safe design and installation of electrical wiring across all states of United States. While NFPA 70 is not a law, it is highly regarded as the optimal electrical requirements standard in the United States.
- NFPA 70e sets out safety warnings and requirements to assist employees and companies to avoid injuries in the workplace due to electrocution and shock, by introducing safety-related requirements, maintenance, and work practices.
- NFPA 13 is also known as the sprinkler system installation standards, and sets out industry regulations for automated fire sprinkler systems including components, installation, and design options.
- NFPA 701 includes a standard system of identification of hazardous materials and allows for a variety of testing methods to ascertain the flame retardancy and flammability of a variety of textiles used in architectural structures, including window shades and curtains.
International Code Council (ICC).
The ICC was established in 1994 and, since then, has implemented more than 12 international codes covering energy conservation, residential, fire, zoning, and building codes. With global acceptance, codes implemented by the ICC go through a full updating process every three years. The most recent set of codes were enacted in 2015. For our purposes, the two most important and widely used ICC codes throughout the United States are as follows:
- The International Fire Code (IFC) sets out updated conditions and fire safety rules to protect public safety and health in all premises, structures, and buildings. To date, 42 states, including Puerto Rico, Guam, New York City, and the District of Columbia, have fully enacted the provisions of the IFC.
- The International Building Code (IBC) sets out rules relating to the installation and design of buildings to safeguard public safety and to encourage the use of smart technologies. All 50 states including Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, New York City, Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, and Washington DC, have fully enacted the provisions of the IBC.
FirstNet: the First Responder Network Authority.
Originating in 2012 following authorization by Congress, FirstNet exists as an independent and separate authority as part of the NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Administration). FirstNet's aim is to maintain, operate, and build the only countrywide high-speed network with the sole purpose of providing public safety solutions by using the 700-megahertz spectrum radio frequency band. FirstNet saw the introduction of the NPSBN (Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network): The first unified United States public safety network aimed at serving first responders including US marshals, firefighters, and police; emergency medical services including technicians, paramedics, and ambulance workers; and other miscellaneous public safety personnel. By including both building and fire safety standards under one nationwide umbrella, FirstNet provides modern safety standards for thousands of public safety personnel and organizations from the federal to state and local levels.
An overarching acceptance of FirstNet has given it significant influence within wireless industry. FirstNet recently designated AT&T as the provider of choice to manage and build the country's first and only countrywide broadband public safety network with the sole aim of assisting first responders.
Today, cellular coverage is an important requirement, and is no longer an option. As new guidelines continue to be established to provide baseline requirements for minimum cellular coverage and signal strength standards, the importance of a dedicated public safety coverage frequency band and reliable cellular service equipment becomes increasingly important.
The Need for a Public Safety Signal Booster or Similar System.
It is a sad reality that a communication delay of as little as few seconds can make the difference between whether a life changing incident occurs or is successfully prevented. As a result of these concerns, updated public safety and fire codes continue to be implemented across areas with high foot traffic level, including businesses and certain other public locations.
The first step is to measure public safety bands coverage strength in all parts of the building. Anritsu S412E LMR Master is the industry's only battery-powered Land Mobile Radio (LMR) field analyzer. It is capable of testing both 700 MHz LTE broadband and P25 LMR narrowband networks. We carry a public safey signal measuring tool that covers all the public safety band frequencies. If you do not wish to invest in purchasing a unit that may be needed only once per year, we offer public safety coverage testing service nationwide for a one-time cost of travel and testing appointment.
At the preceding link shown above, you can schedule the grid test and site survey that will provide you with complete coverage grid test reports you would need to present to your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) if in-building coverage meets the requirements. If the grid test we perform does not meet the local AHJ requirements, we can perform immediate site survey to help design a public safety bands signal enhancement system that will help you meet the requirements. Thereafter, we can total the cost of equipment and labor cost for its installation. Upon approval, we can proceed to install it then or at a later scheduled date and time which is suitable for you.
The Requirements of a Public Safety Signal Booster, DAS, BDA Kits.
Public safety signal boosters, bi-directional amplifiers or passive distributed antennas are known by the FCC as Part 90 signal boosters. They can be divided into two different types, known as Class A and Class B. Whether you need Class A or Class B will depend on your individual circumstances. When determining which class of public safety signal booster you require, consider the following:
- Class A signal boosters have been designed for use with one or more specified channels. High-powered boosters and DAS boosters usually meet the requirements for the Class A classification as they have a narrower signal filter and higher power. Signal boosters in this class can cover a larger area due to their higher strength and power.
- Class B signal boosters have a coverage limitation of less than 500,000 square feet due to their limited power. They correspondingly attract around half the cost of a similar Class A signal booster. Boosters in this class must be registered, prior to operation, directly with the FCC.
Once you have decided whether a Class A or Class B signal would best suit your needs, the next step is to make sure that the signal booster you choose fully conforms with local and state guidelines. For this reason, make sure you are familiar with the set of guidelines that your local AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) abides by. Keep in mind that your AHJ may not be one organization or a group, but may be a combination of different organizations and groups depending on the building type (for example, an apartment building or a hospital), the jurisdiction of the area, and its location. If you have any concerns as to which AHJs apply to your individual circumstances, the local government authority should be able to point you in the right direction, so you can ensure that you meet all relevant requirements and organize the right inspections for your building to be properly certified.
Next, you will need to work out the optimal coverage areas for your building. In other words, what is the total area that requires amplification? Again, your local AHJs will provide some input. This will also depend on the building type itself as, in some instances, only areas considered "dead spaces" like stairwells will require additional amplification rather than the building in its entirety.
The final step is to ensure that you choose a FirstNet compliant booster. FirstNet is fast becoming the regulatory body for all equipment and first responders, so it makes sense to choose a FirstNet compliant booster so that your setup has the greatest chances of complying with future regulations and building codes.
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