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.      https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Gxr5DXHTWpGV6Bhe0E_Jooc-NGr1FkjM06L0REJujhc/edit?usp=sharing

I can’t copy the NFPA but you can access a Free online copy at http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/free-access

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. http://iafc.org/files/commComm_GuideRadioCommForFireServ.pdf

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. http://wireless.fcc.gov/signal-boosters/index.html .  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.  https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/bsc.ca.gov/gov.ca.bsc.2013.09.pdf

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.

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.

 

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.

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