Save Money on Emergency Responder Radio Coverage Systems

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Having adequate indoor radio coverage “today”, does not necessarily ensure that you will have adequate coverage “tomorrow”.  Growing trees, new construction and other changes in the local area can gradually or quickly affect the radio coverage in and around your building.  Ensuring a building has adequate indoor radio coverage for Emergency Responders is not an easy objective and will face the same issues Cellular providers have in ensuring reliable coverage inside buildings.  It’s not always a question of “if” you building needs improvement but often a question of “when or where” it needs improvement.

Everyone asks “How do you reduce the cost of complying with Emergency Responder Radio Coverage?”

No. 1 – Include the infrastructure necessary for public safety cabling in the building design.  The cost of a few extra conduits and NEMA 4 boxes in the scale of things may be negligible compared to the cost of retrofitting a building sometime in the future.  Infrastructure must include a 2 Hr rated riser and horizontal pathways meeting Level 1, 2 or 3 survivability.  (With SIGECS – survivability is crucial.)  Plan the space necessary for the equipment and allow for the connections to primary power, building ground and the fire alarm system.

No. 2 – Request indoor coverage testing from a 3rd Party Test Service that specializes in Public Safety Radio Coverage.  Being able to determine if a system is needed in the early stages of construction can be critical in meeting the construction schedule.  Preliminary measurements provide the basis for estimating final radio coverage and provides the information needed by the system designer.  The accuracy of the preliminary measurements will naturally improve as the construction work is completed.  Formal testing is performed after the building is finished to document the final radio coverage.

No. 3 – Make an agreement with a System Supplier for the technical requirements including design and commissioning.  The Emergency Responder Radio Coverage System (ERRCS) is a fairly complex requirement and should be left to radio experts.  Providing the cable pathway and demark locations for power, ground and alarms will reduce the cost from the System Supplier.  (These are things that they, generally, do not perform.)  Push for quality.  The ERRCS is critical for life safety….survivability is a key objective and this can only be achieved trough high quality materials and installation.  Use a 3rd Party Test Service to ensure system performance, to document the final coverage and to expedite acceptance by the Fire Marshall.

Following is a descriptive diagram showing the primary components making up a typical Public Safety system.   ERRCS Primary Components

Public Safety DAS; NFPA 72 and Best Practices

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The enforcement of  Public Safety Indoor Radio Coverage is popping up all over the nation and as a result many of our new clients are asking for help understanding the  regulations and what is involved with correcting problems should their building fail.  I put together a document, which I give to just about everyone that calls.  It provides a listing of all the pertinent sections of NFPA 72 – 2013.

I can’t copy the NFPA but you can access a Free online copy at

The requirements and the type of Public Safety Radio System is a variable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Even the frequency bands used within a jurisdiction are all over the map and, of course,  the odds are, it’s going to be different in the neighboring jurisdiction.   Digital P25 technology may improve inter-operable communications between agencies, but it does very little to change the wide range of frequencies the building owner must address in his system design.  The national Broadband Network (FirstNet) is also looming around the corner and will naturally be added to local requirements as it becomes available.   If you don’t have a 700/800MHz digital signal booster, you probably are going to fork out some more money in the future.

System flexibility and the ability of the cable path to accommodate changes are paramount to long term savings.   Best Practices include:

  • Utilize a professional to get things started.
  • Have good specifications to ensure you are getting  products and services that meet regulations and local requirements.
  • Ensure quality and code compliance through 3rd Party inspection and testing.
  • Plan long term resources and life cycle costs.

RFSignalman provides several template specifications to assist our clients with these objectives and our web-site is a good source of information.  If you don’t find it…….ask.

RFSignalman – “testing to save lives” – it is our focus.


Quality – Public Safety Radio – Is it really important?

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“Quality doesn’t just happen.”

When it breaks – it’s cheaper to get a new one.  This is true for so many things these days from kitchen gadgets to printers and cell phones.  With products becoming cheaper and cheaper to manufacture, the quality standard seems to be based on the time it takes something to fail.  That being said…..wouldn’t you think the quality objective of something that is not supposed to fail…..say something your life depended on……should be very high.

Quality and survivability are extremely important to the First Responder.  When your life depends on it, there is no place for cutting corners or using unreliable parts or equipment.  That’s why Public Safety Radio systems are designed to be 99.9999% reliable (approximately 52 minutes of outage per year).  The Radio is one of the most important tools used by First Responders and is crucial for support and coordinating on-site efforts.  A delay in communications can have serious impacts to the outcome of an emergency situation.  The following link provides an excellent overview of fire communications and how indoor coverage fits into the picture.

The Building Owner is now responsible for Public Safety Radio coverage inside buildings.  Although it may seem financially tempting to skimp on quality when  first hit with a new requirement –  it never pays in the long run.  As a preventive measure, the FCC has just issued new rules for commercial, industrial and Part 90 users of Booster Systems that go into effect March 2014.  These rules are accompanied with stiff fines starting at $100K. and a requirement to register equipment. .  High Quality Systems, Monitoring and Testing are the Best Practices to ensure compliance with CA Fire Code Section 510  and NFPA 72 requirements as well as keep the FCC off your back.

Building Owners are expected to spend Billions annually for Indoor Radio Coverage

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High density BDA area

Many Amplifiers focused at a single  Donor Site

Who’s spending and how will it benefit our community?  Wireless is a vital element in every-day personal and corporate communications.  It allows individuals to be untethered and free to collaborate and share information anywhere at anytime.  Wireless coverage is desired by business and residential tenants and is becoming a higher criteria for selecting new facilities and homes.  Public Safety agencies also rely heavily on radio communications and new Fire Codes mandate adequate indoor radio coverage for First Responders such as Police and Fire Departments.    Building Owners are required to ensure indoor Public Safety Radio coverage as a condition of occupancy and to install enhancement systems if needed to meet minimum requirements.  Since the codes are relatively new, building owners often receive minimal guidance or support from the enforcing agency.   As a result, a large number of individual owners, with little to no radio expertise or an understanding of the local requirements, set out to get an enhancement system installed in their building.  Public Safety Systems typically consist of a few radio sites that provide coverage throughout the jurisdiction.  Business, commercial, and high-density residential areas will eventually have many individual systems pointing directly at a limited number of donor (macro) radio sites.   Different agencies within the jurisdiction may operate on separate radio system in different frequency bands, further complicating requirements  for the building owner.  It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a train wreck coming around the corner if you don’t have tight control of all these individual systems.

With costs in the range of $120K-200K for smaller buildings and much more for larger buildings, property owners may collectively spend more to augment Public Safety radio coverage than the government agencies are spending on infrastructure themselves.  In the near future, the building owner, will also be required to modify their enhancement systems to address indoor coverage for P25 Phase 2 and LTE Broadband requirements.  The Federal Government recently launched FirstNet to develop a national broadband network for Public Safety and have committed initial funding of $7B to the program.    This certainly means additional equipment and potentially a major upgrade or replacement of current systems if future requirements are not addressed in the initial system design.  Indoor coverage is recognized by everyone in the industry as a critical component in delivering wireless services to the end-user.  Imagine……buildings are now expected to behave like a perfect antenna capable of radiating and transmitting signals between 150MHz thru 2.7GHz and perhaps up-to 6GHz for WLAN systems, all without interfering with your neighbor or signals outside the building.  The technology is available, however, without planning it could cost taxpayers and individual building owners much more than it should.

Public Safety Radio coverage is a consistent requirement for all buildings.  The core goal should be to reduce the direct and long term costs of the building owner while providing the best radio coverage possible for the people that protect us from harm.  Building Owners, Developers and Public Safety should take a proactive approach to the “grand design” and share the responsibility and certainly collaborate to align interests in developing community based infrastructure.  The building-by-building approach may accommodate start-up requirements, however, developing multi-user systems to support neighborhoods and fiber optic systems that support metro and larger applications should seriously be considered.  Taking a system approach should reduce initial and life-cycle costs as well as provide improved control of the radio system.   Government funding (taxpayer dollars) and direct investment by building owners are currently the dominant financial sources for Public Safety Radio infrastructure.  With so much at stake, building owners definitely play a major role in shaping how radio coverage can be accomplished in their community.

Conceptual RF over Fiber Metro DAS

Conceptual Diagram –     Public Safety – Metro Fiber DAS

Radio over Fiber is a very well established technology that allows RF signals up-to 6GHz to be transported over a single strand of fiber to remote antennas 10km away.  The conceptual diagram to the left utilizes fiber cable to extend Public Safety Radio signals to different zones in a community.  Each zone connects buildings in a neighborhood or large individual structures like stadiums, schools, and convention centers.   Benefits include:

  •  Better control of the Public Safety coverage and capacity requirements.  Radio coverage needs to be everywhere, but it is only used when a First Responder is on-site.
  • Reduced risk of RF Interference.  You could control where and when you want indoor coverage – perhaps interfaced to Public Safety Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems.
  • Significant improvement in the reliability of indoor systems and their ability to survive catastrophic events.  Route and equipment redundancy can be achieved very economically through current fiber network technologies.
  • Future proofing for in-building systems – allows public safety to modify their systems without impacting building infrastructure.
  • Better network diagnostics rather than discrete alarm contacts monitored by a variety of alarm companies.

Naturally fiber availability is a required asset for this approach.  Your Utility company, surprisingly enough,  should be viewed as a preferred source of Dark Fiber and a valuable partner for Public Safety applications.  They own some pretty extensive fiber  systems that are constructed to the same standards as public safety systems.  They also have a public safety mission and in emergencies commonly coordinate safety and emergency restoration activities with police and fire departments.  Utilities also have Right of Way and a Point-of-Presence in every building.  They certainly aren’t  the only source for  Dark Fiber.  Other sources such as Metro Fiber and Telephone Companies are also available in most cities.  Reliability, restoration intervals, priority of service and cost will be the critical elements facing any fiber supplier.

Unfortunately there isn’t a single design to meet every requirement and each community must resolve public safety coverage issues based on the assets and types of radio systems in use locally.  The important thing in the end, is that the First Responder has the ability to call for help, report on the situation, and coordinate response activities in extreme situations.  Tenant satisfaction with other wireless systems will ultimately come from being able to seamlessly use their personal or corporate wireless devices to securely access the internet and their phone and messaging services.  Saving Money and Improving Safety are strong enough incentives to knock down most obstacles.    It’s never too late for everyone to pitch in and work towards a common goal, especially one that provides a win-win opportunity for the community.

Public Safety Radio Coverage – Elk Grove CA

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Several contractors and fire marshals have asked if there is a way to predict indoor coverage before a building is built or improvements are made.   There are several modeling tools that can be utilized, however, it is important to remember that coverage predictions are estimates and are only as accurate as the information being used to define the variables.   RF signals are subjected to a wide variety of obstacles and varying geographic and atmospheric conditions  as it traverses a path from the radio site to the recipient.  In the end – the only way to accurately assess radio coverage is to make physical measurements.
As a community service, RFSignalman recently tested the  800MHz radio coverage  in the Elk Grove, CA.   The dots, on the following Google Map, are color coded to reflect a range of  signal levels. You can also zoom in and click on each dot to view the actual level measured at that point.  The outdoor measurement eliminates many of the variables and provides a good benchmark in estimating the amount of loss that can be introduced by your building before reaching the minimum acceptable level of -95dBm.
Outdoor Signal Level up to:
-70dBm = Green      (Good – allows the building owner minimum of 25dB for building loss)
-80dBm = Yellow     (Good/Marginal – allows the building owner 15-24dB of building loss)
-90dBm = Red          (Marginal/Bad – allows the building owner 5-15dB of building loss)
-95dBm – Light Blue (Bad – allows the building owner less than 5dB of building loss)
-100dBm – Blue        (Bad)
The measurments should not be considered a pass/fail indication, since every building is a little different, but it provides a good overview of outdoor radio coverage in Elk Grove and geographic areas that could potentially have issues with indoor coverage.

View Larger Map

Intro to RF Signalman

What are the chances that my building will fail coverage tests?

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Video – will my building fail testing?  The physical and electrical obstacles between your building and the closest Radio Site is a huge variable – there is no way to be certain of the performance within a specific building without making measurements.

Practically speaking,  however, the majority of buildings should pass.  Public Safety Radio Systems usually consist of a limited number of Radio Sites covering a large geographic area.   These systems are designed to be extremely reliable and to provide good street level coverage in the range of -60 to -90dBm within the jurisdiction.  Typical building losses range from 11dB for small stuco buildings to 30dB+ for large concrete buildings.  With this in mind, you can anticipate that a large number of buildings will meet the  minimum signal level of  -95dBm and pass compliance testing.

Large buildings, heavy concrete structures, underground structures and high rise buildings may have indoor coverage issues.  The reflective and low-E glass used in new construction is not very radio friendly and significantly reduces the Radio Signal inside the building (just like the heat).   The outside signal levels, the type of construction and the actual contents of the building are all factors affecting indoor coverage.  Annual testing and spot testing, when changes are made to the building,  is the recommended approach to ensure compliance with Fire Codes.


RF Engineers – An Endangered Species?

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The analysis of RF propagation is a weird and seldom understood engineering specialty practised by the few remaining experts in the field.  These guys are usually the elders in an engineering team and are relied upon by the junior engineers for their knowledge base and past experiences.   When things don’t work like the computer simulation, these are the guys you rely on to find the problem and come up with some ingenious method of solving the issues.

Well…… the elders are disappearing in larger numbers every year and it seems to be harder and harder to find new individuals with the broad range of knowledge and skill sets to be good engineers let alone the desire to be in this field.   Schools are cutting back on curriculum as other technologies are perceived to be more in-demand to the upcoming generations.  I’ve even heard RF engineering referred to as that icky “physical layer stuff”.

At a time when the world is becoming more and more reliant on wireless communications and next generation networks, we need to encourage interest in RF and Radio engineering as well as capture the disappearing tribal knowledge base.

I am encouraged by a recent article in the February issue of the Mission Critical magazine ( about the efforts of Carole Perry and the Radio Club of America (RCA).  They have a radio technology program that supports 22 schools and 2 museums with their education programs.   Carole has taught Amateur Radio to 6th to 8th graders for over 30 years with a high percentage receiving their FCC licenses.   Her efforts are certainly encouraging new talent to become RF Engineers.  She mentions one of her Young Achievers in the article and I just had to see the YouTube video presentation given by this 17 year old on Fractal Antennas.   His presentation was extremely impressive.  I see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and hope for our endangered species.  Austin Schaller’s presentation can be seen by typing “fractal antennas + RCA” in the YouTube search box.  Take a look at an up-coming star.

Do I need a FCC Record Book for my BDA and DAS?

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If you’ve recently had to install a Bi-Directional Amplifier (BDA) and Distributed Antenna System (DAS) to comply with new CA Fire Code 510, you may be asking what documentation do I need to or should I keep on file……..

Here is a helpful list you should consider to include in your Record Book for regulatory and maintenance needs.

The Minimum:

  • In Lieu of an FCC License – Post and keep a copy of the Authorization to operate on the Public Safety frequencies granted by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
  • A copy Test Results (annual) demonstrating compliance to the local indoor coverage requirements.
  • A Station Log identifying dates and pertinent details of any maintenance performed along with the name and address of the technician who did the work.

Recommended Additional Items:

  • Benchmark Test Data – (made prior to installing your indoor coverage system).
  • Pictures of the skyline from your rooftop.  (note: shadowing can be caused by new construction.)
  • Floor plans identifying the equipment and antenna locations and the cable routing for the DAS.
  • Detailed equipment and material list including Manufacturer Specifications and Warranty Data – (provided by supplier).

Keeping good records will make it much easier to stay in compliance and is extremely helpful for long term maintenance.

New issue of APCO Mission Critical Magazine

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Here is a link to the New issue of the APCO Mission Critical Magazine!  

You can also visit the APCO Buyers Guide and see our advertisement.


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