An Uninterrupted Lifeline

An Uninterrupted Lifeline

Radio communications link emergency responders to enhanced systems

For a first responder rushing into a building emergency, losing communication with their teams inside or outside of the building can be terrifying. In fact, according to an IAFC (International Association of Fire Chiefs) 2017 survey by Safer Buildings Coalition, 94% of surveyed first responders say reliable in-building communications is critical or frequently important during emergencies.1,2

Yet, 98.5% report dead spots in buildings, and 56% have experienced a communications failure over the last two-year period.1,2 These dead spots and failures not only impact communication but directly affect first responders’ safety and, ultimately, the safety of the individuals they’re trying to help—as on 9/11, when firefighters and police officers could not properly communicate with each other in the World Trade Center.

POOR SIGNAL STRENGTH

Dead spots within a building for first responder radio communications are caused by poor signal strength, which is impacted by several factors depending on the facility. Low-emissivity glass windows designed to block solar heat can weaken radio signals into and out of buildings. While underground structures, obstructions (such as other large nearby buildings), and building materials, like concrete or metal, can all affect signal strength at a particular location.

Radio communication outages can be avoided for first responders within a building, who might be in a dire situation. Thanks to technology like emergency responder communications-enhancement systems or bi-directional amplifier (BDA) systems, first responders can walk into a building with confidence that their support teams still have their backs.

BDAs are signal boosters that sustain two-way radio communications throughout a facility—even in stairwells, underground tunnels and other typically challenging spaces. A BDA can provide 100% in-building coverage by boosting signals from a public safety radio repeater and distributing them throughout the building using the Distributed Antenna System (DAS). The BDA receives and amplifies transmissions from radios inside to the repeater antenna outside and vice versa, safeguarding reliable two-way communications.

IMPROVING CODE

As a direct result of the World Trade Center disaster in 2001, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published recommendations in 2011 to improve code and public safety. Included was a recommendation to update national fire codes to provide reliable radio coverage in buildings. Most current adopted fire and building codes require emergency responder radiosignal strength, and coverage measured in all new and some existing construction. The International Fire Code (IFC) has been adopted by many states, requires acceptable signal coverage throughout 95% of the building in all areas on each floor in new buildings, while the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires 99% building coverage in critical areas and 90% in general areas.3 Meeting these code requirements can help prevent delays in acquiring a Certificate of Occupancy from Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs), such as a fire marshal, once construction is complete on a new facility.

Deploying a BDA system not only supports compliance but also helps protect first responders and makes their job easier. It is important to check the specs though. Not all systems comply with Underwriters Laboratory (UL) code UL 2524. The UL product listing creates a performance standard for ERCES/BDA systems and assures AHJs, architects and engineers that the system works the first time and every time in accordance with IFC and NFPA regulations.

Every second counts in an emergency, and a communication failure can put lives at risk. Installing a BDA system that meets all applicable codes can help keep occupants safe while also protecting rst responders who are putting their own lives on the line.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Mahesh Nanjakla is the offering management lead, Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES), Honeywell Fire Systems

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