Working Through BDA/DAS Regulation Confusion
Several of the new NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) codes and standards regarding emergency communications have caused some confusion in the building management marketplace. Building owners and managers may wonder whether the new guidelines apply to some or all of their facilities, and if they do, what actions need to be taken? This blog is intended to provide a brief overview of the new NFPA guidance and suggestions for your next steps.
Purpose of the new requirements
The new fire code changes have a clear and simple purpose: to help protect first responders and improve their capability to provide assistance.
The new NFPA codes address this purpose with an approach that came, at least in part, from lessons learned from the 9/11 response. In that event, there was additional loss of life due to a failure in radio communications among first responders. The new approach seeks to ensure public safety emergency radio coverage. There is a particular focus on facility areas that are vulnerable to service gaps. The regulations require specific protections for the radio coverage system to help ensure it will be operational when needed.
In short, the new requirement in NFPA 72 is to install, protect, and maintain a two-way radio communication enhancement or signal boosting system in any building where it is needed to ensure adequate first responder radio coverage. Such systems are often called BDA or DAS systems (Bi-Directional Amplifier or Distributed Antenna Systems) depending on the specifics of the installation.
While the NFPA does not itself have regulatory authority, it publishes national guidelines and standards for building codes. These guidelines are developed using the best available fire- and damage-prevention practices that are enacted by many states and local code enforcement agencies in their building codes.
Because the implementation of NFPA guidelines is determined by state and local laws, the specific requirements for building owners will vary by location. Florida, for example, has enacted a state law requiring compliance with the new BDA/DAS guidance. Many other jurisdictions, such as the city of Boston, have also enacted laws requiring compliance.
Here is a very brief description of the key requirements of NFPA 72 (2016 edition):
- 90 percent of general building areas, and 99 percent of critical areas (including fire command centers, pump rooms, exit stairs, and similar areas) shall be provided radio coverage.
- If these areas don’t receive adequate radio signals from the public antennas, they must be equipped with radio enhancement systems (repeaters and/or distributed antenna systems) to ensure coverage.
- Installed radio enhancement systems must have redundant power supplies – at least a line power connection and a backup connection for minimum 12 hours of operation in the event of supplied power failure.
- Systems must have automatic supervisory systems that monitor them for integrity and functionality.
- Systems must have lightning protection.
As a first step, we suggest you check with your local building code enforcement officials to determine what requirements apply in your area, and when they must be implemented. It is very likely that your local officials will be happy to help you understand the applicable regulations. Remember that these requirements were developed to help first responders to be more effective at saving lives. This is meaningful; even if your customers are not required to take action now, they may want to take steps to help protect their building and its occupants.
The next step would be to check buildings to assess emergency radio system coverage. Here again, your local public safety departments may be willing to help you by assessing your customer’s facility, showing you how to make the assessment, or identifying someone who can.
If the radio coverage within a building or facility does not meet the requirements, or, if the owner wants to enhance the current radio coverage to improve the ability of first responders to function in the facility, make a proposal to enhance the system to deliver the desired coverage.
Make sure that any planned installation includes surge protection and a battery back-up system to protect against surges, spikes and power outages. DITEK has specific products designed for this purpose.
When an emergency occurs, everyone’s first thought is to get help from first responders, including firefighters, police, and paramedics. We understand now that if these responders cannot communicate with each other or their departments when they are within a building, both their ability to help and their safety are compromised. This means that the building, and all of its occupants, could be at risk in an emergency if there isn’t adequate radio coverage. It makes sense to check the current status of emergency radio coverage, and make improvements if necessary, to ensure first responders will be able to do their best if they are needed.
Note: DITEK does not provide legal counsel or legal advice. If you have legal questions, please contact an attorney with expertise on your specific situation.