A Quick Guide: Emergency Responder Radio Antenna System Requirements, Codes, and Products to Ensure a Certificate of Occupancy
A Quick Emergency Responder Radio Antenna System Overview
The two-way Emergency Responder Radio Antenna System (ERRAS) works by distributing the available outside radio signal over a system of small interior antennas within the building. The interior antennas disperse the radio signal throughout the building to provide distributed coverage throughout. Emergency responder radios may sufficiently work outside of your building, but the signal can degrade once indoors. This happens because common building materials such as Low-E glass, metal and concrete can block or degrade the wireless signal. This leads to poor quality wireless service inside buildings which can hinder communication of first responders and emergency personnel with another. This problem is especially prevalent in large buildings that are segmented into multiple rooms.
The first step for general contractors, electrical contractors, and building owners is understanding local code requirements to ensure your building complies and passes the necessary AHJ inspections in issuing a Certificate of Occupancy.
Cabling Infrastructure, Commissioning, Inspection, and Certificate of Occupancy Basics
- The ERRAS system may be as simple a system for managing emergency response radio coverage as Bi-Directional Amplifier with a few antennas joined by coaxial cabling. ERRAS installations typically require ½” coaxial cable to the interior and exterior donor antennas.
- For buildings over 250,000-square-feet, a fiber optic backbone may need to be installed to properly distribute the signal to fiber optic remote amplifiers.
- Post-deployment grid testing with supporting documentation may be required by the AHJ for a Certificate of Occupancy to be issued.
- Building owners must have the ERRAS system inspected on an annual basis or if significant renovations are made to the building.
Public Safety DAS Requirements
- The International Fire Code (IFC) – 95% minimum signal coverage for all portions of a building in the U.S.
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – 99% signal coverage required in all “critical areas” of the facility and 90% coverage for general areas, including common areas, stairwells, basements, storage areas, and parking garages.
- Both the NFPA 72 (126.96.36.199) IFC state you will need a minimum of -95 dB (decibel) signal strength throughout the coverage area.
ERRAS Testing Facts
- The pre-deployment and post-deployment grid testing require a Spectrum Analyzer to identify weak frequencies or dead zones within each floor of your building.
- Each floor in your building is divided into “20-grid” or “40-grid” depending on local code requirements. Two signal failures per floor are typically permitted, though this can vary by building type and local enforcement of fire codes.
- You will most likely need a ERRAS system if your facility has any of the following products and features:
- sub-grade levels
- parking garages (case by case basis)
- LEED high-efficiency glass
Keeping Up to Code
The NFPA & IFC work with local municipalities to certify that requirements are in place that will result in reliable radio communication for emergency responders using UHF, VHF, 700 Mhz/800Mhz frequencies. There are three (3) primary codes that relate to Public Safety and are often adopted by the local jurisdictions:
NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code In addition to fire alarms, the code includes requirements for mass notification systems used for weather emergencies, terrorist events, and biological, chemical and nuclear emergencies, among other threats.
188.8.131.52 Critical Areas. Critical areas, such as the fire command center(s), the fire pump room(s), exit stairs, exit passageways, elevator lobbies, standpipe cabinets, sprinkler sectional valve locations, and other areas deemed critical by the authority having jurisdiction, shall be provided with 99 percent floor area radio coverage.
184.108.40.206 Amplification Components. Buildings and structures that cannot support the required level of radio coverage shall be equipped with a radiating cable system or a distributed antenna system (DAS) with FCC-certified signal boosters, or both, or with a system that is otherwise approved, in order to achieve the required adequate radio coverage.
5.2.4* System Radio Frequencies. The public safety radio enhancement system shall be capable of transmitting all public safety radio frequencies assigned to the jurisdiction and be capable of using any modulation technology.
NFPA 1221 – Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems Contains procedural and physical criteria for the installation, performance, operation, and maintenance of public emergency services communications systems and facilities, including in-building signal enhancement for first responders.
Local City and County Authorities Having Jurisdiction are enforcing the Code Mandates for ERRAS systems prior to granting Certificate of Occupancy approvals.
IFC Section 5
510.1 Emergency responder radio coverage in new buildings. New buildings shall have approved radio coverage for emergency responders within the building based on the existing coverage levels of the public safety communication systems utilized by the jurisdiction, measured at the exterior of the building. This section shall not require improvement of the existing public safety communication systems.
510.3 and 105.7.5 Permits Requires that a construction permit will be needed for the installation or modification to Public Safety DAS systems and related equipment. However, if maintenance is performed on an existing system construction permit will not be required.
Product Highlight: Comba’s CriticalPoint 700MHz/800MHz BDAs
Comba’s CriticalPoint Class A/B BDA is a 700MHz/800MHz single or dual band digital channelized repeater that was designed with public safety first responders in mind. Fully compliant with the IFC and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), CriticalPoint’s BDA supports up to 32 channels per band (700MHz and 800MHz). Depending on the size of the building, the BDA is offered in two versions, a .5W or 2W of downlink power per band to accommodate smaller buildings.
- Fully compliant with the IFC and NFPA
- Comprehensive Alarming Capabilities
- Local & SNMP Based Remote Monitoring
- Low Electrical Operating Cost
Many buildings are constructed without a ERRAS system in place, which leads to inspection failures for jurisdictions where reliable radio frequency transmission throughout the building is required by law. Rather than an afterthought, it’s crucial to design and plan the ERRAS system from the start of a project. Leaving the installation and integration of a ERRAS system at the end of a project can prove costly, especially if the building hasn’t been designed with radio frequencies signals in mind.