Has Your Building Been Tested?

If there’s an emergency, first responders rush to render aid. If they enter your building, some of the materials used in its construction can obstruct radio coverage so firefighters, paramedics, and security personnel can’t communicate with each other. The result could be a catastrophe. 

If you own the building, it’s your responsibility to make sure first responder radios work when emergency personnel is on the property. If building and surrounding area features block the signal, you might need an Emergency Responder Radio System (ERRS). The best way to find out whether or not you need one is to have your building tested.

What Is an Emergency Responder Radio System (ERRS)?

Police, Emergency Medical personnel, Firefighters, Homeland Security, and other first responders use hand-held radios to keep in touch during an emergency. An Emergency Responder Radio System is a technology that amplifies signals and distributes them throughout buildings where handheld radio communication would otherwise be impossible.

ERRS works like a typical cell phone. It allows first responders to stay in touch, and it also transmits their location and physical condition to their agencies so administrators and dispatchers can coordinate their activities.

Why Are ERRS Required?

The tragic events of September 11 showed the nation the type of tragedy that occurs when those hand-held radios don’t allow teams to keep in touch.

After American 11 crashed into the North Tower, more than a thousand police, fire, and EMS workers rushed to the scene. It was a worst-case scenario of almost unimaginable proportions, and first responders immediately went to work evacuating citizens and trying to save lives. However, they used radio to coordinate efforts, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that a third of the messages were either incomplete or unintelligible. The radio systems and communication infrastructure just weren’t sufficient.

When several radios are transmitting close to each other, overloading can occur. Building materials interfere, and only strong signals can get through. Cell phone systems were overloaded and all circuits were busy.

At Ground Zero, firefighters waited for instructions inside the second tower. A helicopter circled the building and warned they needed to get out. They never received the message. 

The firefighters and the people they were there to rescue were still inside when the tower collapsed, and that was just one of the communication failures that fateful day. In the aftermath, legislators went to work to prevent that type of communication failure in the future.

Who Needs Building Testing?

Any building with hard to reach areas can have communication limitations. Stairwells, basements, and low-E glass windows block signals. So do multiple floor levels and thick-walled areas. 

Commercial buildings, senior care facilities, schools, warehouse structures, sports arenas and entertainment venues, high-rise residential properties, LEED Certified buildings, and other large buildings all must support ERRS. Poured concrete structures and buildings with underground garages also face challenges with signal distribution.

What Regulations Apply?

Local and national authorities mandate required coverage, and sometimes their jurisdictions overlap. If you own a building that might need testing, you might be regulated by these organizations:

  • National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)
  • International Fire Code (IFC)
  • First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
  • International Building Code (IBC)

None of the regulations are light reading. That’s where it’s helpful to have an expert who knows how to identify the relevant local authority and find out what codes your building must meet. We offer everything from a site survey to design assistance to cost-effective installation so you can provide the required coverage.

What’s Actually Required?

Testing will verify whether or not your building offers the following:

  • Sufficient Wireless Coverage – The National Fire Protection Agency requires 99 percent coverage in “vital importance” areas and 90 percent coverage throughout the rest of the building. Your local fire department dictates which areas are of vital importance.
  • Minimal Signal Strength – The National Fire Protection Agency and International Fire Code both require a signal strength of at least -95 dBm.
  • Battery Backups – The equipment that runs your system must have a battery backup in case emergency interferes with electricity. Your backup must support your system for at least 24 hours without outside power.
  • NEMA-4 Compliant Enclosures – The equipment supporting communications must be enclosed in containers that protect technology from rain, sleet, snow, and water introduced by fire hoses. 
  • Antenna Isolation: Your antenna must be 15 dB higher than your amplifier’s gain.
  • Adequate Fire Ratings – The cables that connect your equipment and the room in which it resides must meet a two-hour fire rating.

Buildings also have coverage testing requirements performed on a grid system and verifies each floor’s signal meets minimum download and uplink regulations. There’s more than one type of test. The building owner performs commissioning tests, the Authority Having Jurisdiction performs acceptance tests, and administrators perform annual system and battery backup tests.  

When Should You Test Your Building?

A common misconception is that only new construction is required to support ERRS. However, national, state, and local regulations require all commercial buildings to provide adequate indoor radio coverage throughout every part of the property first responders might need to go. After you’ve verified coverage, test ERRS annually just like you would your alarm system or fire detection equipment.

Buildings should also be re-tested after remodeling, since updates, additions, and modifications change core materials and can affect signal transmission.

Get Your Building Tested for Compliance and Public Safety

It’s a lot to sort out, but we’re here to help. Contact our experts now to find out more about making sure your building is safe and in compliance with regulations.