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Diverse Factors Surrounding Public Safety DAS

Jul 29, 2020

Diverse Factors Surrounding Public Safety DAS

If there’s something first responders are known for, it is running into emergencies and risky situations. EMSs (Emergency Medical Services), law enforcement and firefighters are critical if lives are to be saved fast, property prevented from total destruction or damage, and the law upheld.

For them to execute their response accordingly, cellular connection is required. All these agencies need proper mobile communication to correspond efficiently among themselves as they deal with developing emergencies, risky situations or saving lives.

Diverse cellular communication situations.

First responders need proper communication devices to effectively deal with an active emergency. As such, they make use of two-way radios among other devices. As expected, mobile devices and communication have since affected emergency responders as well. In many instances, they might find themselves in areas with little cellular connectivity or unhelpful radio coverage inside buildings. Lack of coverage means they cannot communicate, and strategize with their teams outside the building. That can be dangerous for victims and the responders themselves.

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Problems despite laws and regulations.

Enforcement of building regulations and laws is altogether another problematic situation. It is even worse for first responders when they know many of the buildings around have poor cellular coverage and have not been tracked. In localities without proper tracking systems of buildings without ideal radio & mobile coverage, first responders have no choice but to blindly respond and hope for the best. In essence, municipalities and localities understand this is a huge problem that requires rapid solutions.

Critical public safety feature.

911 calls and requests for help are done by people living in residential and commercial buildings. This means cellular connection inside buildings is a vital public safety feature. As such, LMR (Land Mobile Radio) are largely what most fire codes have emphasized upon. However, with cellular coverage and mobile communication becoming critical in virtually every building, enhancing cellular connection in buildings is important apart from the focus on frequencies on the LMR band.

First responders and mobile devices.

In fact, most first responders today are actually turning to their mobile devices such as Smartphones on available cellular networks to communicate while at work. In a study: 77 percent of first responders indicated that they have been informed about emergencies through Smartphones. 66 percent of EMS, police and firefighters have relied on Smartphones during responses to emergency situations.

Firefighter command personnel usually use Smartphones to manage fire incidents and not necessarily the firefighters themselves, while EMS personnel have their monitors and health gadgets connected to a working mobile connection. The police and other law enforcement personnel require a working cellular connection inside cars, laptops and other devices.

Fundamentally, mobile devices heavy usage in public safety response indicates clearly the need to ensure all emergency responses and responders have a reliable cellular connectivity usable in the management, relaying and reception of important cellular data on the ground.

In the same study, 65 percent of first responders indicated that in the last 2 years they had faced some form of connection failure as they responded inside buildings. Also, among first responders, 98 percent of firefighters pointed out that poor radio connection had impacted on their response efforts. This included 84 percent of EMS personnel and 64 percent of law enforcement officers. With poor radio reception a huge problem for all the responders, an enhanced signal inside buildings would be a huge help. However, with so many jurisdictions across the United States not really pulling towards the same direction in public safety issues, challenges exist.

Code enforcement and requirements.

In the same study, 42 percent of jurisdictions across United States indicated they were already enforcing NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and ICC (International Code Council) codes, which require among other things a working cellular connection inside buildings. In addition, 32 percent of jurisdictions cannot, or aren't interested in enforcing any codes with 26 percent of most responders surveyed unaware of the code implementation status in their locality.

Building owners are required to fund any requirement for wireless systems inside their buildings during renovation and new constructions. No developer wants the tenants in their construction risking their lives in buildings without the ability to call for help during disasters, fires and health emergencies, which also puts the building at risk. A strong, reliable and efficient public safety DAS ensures that the distributed antenna mechanism works fine, and radio frequencies for first responders are sufficient for them to connect having a reliable, strong and clear connection throughout.

The same requirements for public safety DAS allowing first responders to offer their much needed service inside a building are similarly important for visitors, workers and even tenants. According to the NFPA, every building is required to have a minimum -95dB cellular signal strength for Emergency Responder Radio Coverage Systems (ERRCS), a mandatory standard for every first response radio out there.

Ever-changing codes and regulations.

Even so, ensuring that all the codes are fully enforced as required is not one-time affair. Requirements, regulations and guidelines keep on being updated and are changing from time to time. Not every jurisdiction is applying them, making enforcement across United States.

For instance, NFPA came up with NFPA-72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. It provides all the necessary guidelines related to the emergency communications, signaling and fire detection requirements. This includes covering the need for mass awareness systems not just for nuclear and chemical emergencies, but risks such as biological, terrorism and weather emergencies. In essence, NFPA 72 is the code that demands for implementation of public safety DAS (distributed antenna system), specifically for first responders. Distributed antenna system inside a specific building construction structure, allows anyone around to enjoy improved and reliable communication all the time 24/7.

However, public safety DAS goes a step further by ensuring that first response teams are able to communicate effectively and clearly while within a building. The code requires the public safety system to have its own spectrum different from other cellular commercial systems. It ensures the whole building has been covered for public safety bands. Consistently good coverage must include stairwells and other places such as the basement, storage areas, and other sections in a building mostly ignored when it comes to a working wireless connection.

NFPA 72 also requires that a backup installed for the public safety DAS, in case of a power failure.

Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to public safety DAS and application of the different required codes is collaborating with AHJ. This is important since NFPA code versions are varied and added almost annually; different jurisdictions usually approve the codes they deem necessary, some with minimal enforcement.

Lack of strict adherence & variations in enforcement mean that the codes are quite different. Even so, this has not stopped emergencies from happening. Such events are always on the rise and require first response teams to have sufficient radio coverage.

As legislations, state, local to federal level keep on emphasizing on the need for public safety DAS, building developers and owners need to ensure major building renovations or new building constructions have sufficient cellular coverage throughout to support first responders in their work.

Customized public safety DAS services and top solutions are now available and meet the needs of any location, building size or locality. Diverse advanced solutions are available as cellular and wireless professionals and experts in the industry remain updated on the newest code requirements.

As a result, the perfect solution can be tailored to meet the needs of a renovation or new construction as per the applying AHJ. All the required testing will be carried out to ascertain dead zones, test signal levels and all the different things affecting public safety coverage in need of improvement.

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  • “Most first responders today are actually turning to their mobile devices.” Does that mean that they use them when they respond to calls? That’s what I thought when I first read this but then I saw that firefighters don’t use their cell phones per se. Kind of surprising though at how much cell phones are used by first responders, regardless of the situation. I like how public safety DAS can help with first responders’ specific needs in keeping cellular connections.

    James Williams on
  • I had no idea that firefighters use cell phones so much. I always thought they used walkie-talkies. One of my relatives is in the fire department (out of state) and I can’t wait to ask him how much he and the department use cell phones. I also want to ask him about public safety DAS and whether they have it where he works.

    Rodney Downs on
  • You raise some good points and I hope I can answer your question about where’s the best place to lobby (local, state, or federal). In my opinion, lobbying at the local level is best because it’s easier to access your local government. representatives and they are the ones that determine local enforcement of the required coverage laws for buildings.

    Stevie Matthews on
  • From what I’m reading, these public safety distributed antenna systems are essential for firefighters, police officers, and such. However, is there any way for a neighborhood to have one set up so a block of single or double-family homes are all covered?

    Bonnie B. on
  • I’ve been following this situation for the last two years and am curious what the public can do to get our municipalities to make sure public safety DAS is everywhere. Should we lobby at the local level, the state level, or the federal level? The idea of first responders going into a building without knowing whether they can communicate with their teammates is unacceptable.

    Marianne Greco on

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