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Importance of Public Safety Band Compliance

Jun 09, 2015

Importance of Public Safety Band Compliance

Effective emergency communication can mean the difference between life and death for first responders. Discover how public safety bands ensure the most efficient emergency response.

The public safety spectrum is the section of radio frequencies designated for firefighters, police, and other emergency responders in United States. Represented by the Public Safety Spectrum Trust Corporation (PSST), this spectrum is maintained for public safety members including the American Hospital Association, National Sheriffs' Association, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. In this handy guide, we outline the various public safety bands used for first responders’ emergency communication, as well as the rules that keep those bands in compliance.

How does the FCC assign frequencies?

When it comes to public safety, it is crucial that first responders have reliable access to frequencies for emergency communication. Often, this requires a few different organizations to work together when assigning frequencies including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). One of the FCC's primary jobs is to assign radio frequencies for non-governmental use. Certain frequency ranges are set aside for specific groups, such as TV broadcasters, law enforcement, and emergency medical services. Meanwhile, cell phone carriers rely on frequencies at 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz.

First, the FCC has set aside a few frequency ranges for public safety agencies to use without interference. Any agency with a public safety mission can apply for a frequency assignment by providing a letter from a government official or showing their role as a non-profit. If the agency qualifies for public safety bands, they will receive an assignment from the Public Safety Radio Pool. For example, many animal hospitals, disaster relief nonprofits, schoolboards, beach patrols, veterinarians, and rehabilitation centers can qualify for a frequency assignment. Individuals who are disabled may also qualify, depending on their situation.

As a radio frequency is used by more and more people, it can get overloaded. To deal with this issue, a public safety organization may assign a frequency to a single department, but this solution can cause bottlenecks as well. Eventually, the organization may need to send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find out which frequencies and communications hardware they require.

How does a public safety member gauge its system requirements?

Before applying for a frequency band, it is important for the public safety organization to estimate the number of simultaneous users on the system. Who will the employees be talking to, and how often will the system be used? Will they need broad or narrow geographic coverage? How much money do they have to spend on a communications system? Will the system be shared with other organizations?

Meanwhile, the organization needs to determine whether they prefer a conventional radio system where individual users have a predetermined frequency, or a trunked system that shares a frequency band with multiple users. We recommend trunked systems for large groups, because they maximize efficiency and spread the frequency range across more users. Trunked systems are easy to expand when you need to add people to the band, but they are more complex and expensive to use than normal radio systems.

After determining your frequency requirements with the help of an engineering company, you will need to draft a request and send it to a frequency coordinator. They will take your findings and look for available frequencies that meet your specific needs. There are four main frequency coordinators approved by the FCC for this purpose: Forestry Conservation Communications Association (FCCA), Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, Inc. (APCO), the International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA), and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). These coordinators are tasked with managing different frequency bands, which have unique strengths and weaknesses.

What is the difference between public safety bands?

Your radio frequency can have a significant effect on coverage. As a general rule, high frequencies don't travel as far as low frequencies, and they are more affected by physical obstacles. If you're on a higher frequency band, you may need a few signal repeaters to achieve adequate coverage in your area, which can make for a more expensive installation process. Fortunately, high-frequency systems can function with shorter antennas, so they are ideal for vehicle-based radio systems.

You should work within a frequency band that makes sense for your organization's day-to-day use. For example, a rural area will have less buildings, geographic barriers, and simultaneous users on the system, so a low-frequency band may offer the best results in this environment.

What are the final steps for getting FCC approval?

After your frequency coordinator chooses an appropriate public safety band, they present their findings to the Public Safety Communications Council (PSCC). Made up of all four frequency coordinators, the PSCC can review the frequencies and reply with potential objections. The FCC sets a limit of 20 business days for the frequency coordinator to complete the application process and submit the package to the commission’s Licensing and Technical Analysis Branch for approval.

Once the FCC has the application, they will review it and coordinate with other agencies (as well as neighboring countries like Mexico and Canada) to make sure the frequency is available. If everything is in order, the FCC will grant a license to the public safety agency, which must be renewed every five years. The FCC also resolves disputes about radio interference from non-licensed parties, so that every public safety agency stays in compliance.

The 700 MHz Spectrum.

When digital TV became the national standard, most of the frequencies that were previously reserved for analog TV were auctioned off. Primarily in the 700-800 MHz range, this spectrum can travel farther than higher frequencies, so less cell towers are needed to provide ample coverage. Companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Dish Network won many of the auction bids for the 700 MHz range, which they will use for high-speed internet and wireless data networks. Meanwhile, the spectrum is also shared with public safety agencies nationwide.

The 800 MHz Public Safety Band.

In the early 2000s, the growing number of commercial wireless systems were beginning to interfere with public safety bands, so the FCC decided to reconfigure the 800 MHz public safety band in 2004. This was done to protect first responders' communication systems so that these agencies could stay focused on saving lives. Firefighters, EMTs, police, and other responders rely on the 800 MHz band. To aid this process, the FCC tasked an independent Transition Administrator to reconfigure the 800 MHz band.

Today, the FCC has specifically designated the 806-824 MHz and 851-869 MHz spectrum is for public safety. This process began in 1987, when the FCC identified 6 megahertz of spectrum for public safety agencies across the country.

Our experts want to help you find the perfect signal repeaters and boosters for your public safety band. Try our risk-free systems today, with a 60-day money-back guarantee and no monthly contracts. We also offer professional public safety signal enhancement system installation for all size buildings, large and small.

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  • Thanks for explaining why public safety bands may need more help than a traditional band for a cell phone signal. Once I learned about cell phone boosters, I wondered why there was a need for a separate booster (here, a public safety one). This was an informative look at public safety bands and how they are set up.

    Glenn Haas on

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