In the horrific aftermath of 9/11, one of the most devastating outcomes was that more than 300 first responders lost their lives – at least in part – due to a failure of first responders’ radio communications. Regulators across the country – led by the NFPA – have taken lessons from the complex events of that day and initiated legislation, legal mandates, and updates to building and fire codes that are all designed to improve emergency communications and increase building safety for occupants and first responders at all times.
 
two way radio communication
 
Several new NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) guidelines have been issued recently to address this, with the possibility of more legislation and compliance requirements in the future. Protecting distributed antenna systems (DAS) and bi-directional antennas (BDA) is a high priority, as these systems enable two-way communications throughout every area of a building or facility. As many first responders have experienced, there can be critical gaps in coverage in certain areas of buildings such as stairwells and parking garages.
 
Many local jurisdictions follow the NFPA recommendations for their fire codes and building requirements. Here’s a summary of what the new NFPA requirements say about Public Safety emergency radio coverage:
 
  • 24.5.2.2.1 | Coverage Areas  o All critical areas such as fire command centers, exit stairs, exit passageways, fire pump rooms and elevator lobbies should have provided with a minimum of 99% floor area radio coverage.
  • 24.5.2.3 |  Signal Strength  o Signal strength of both inbound and outbound signals should be at least −95 dBm. This signal strength should hold throughout the area under coverage. There cannot be a compromise on these.
  • 24.5.2.2.2 | General Building Areas o All general building areas should have radio coverage for at least 90 percent of the floor space.
  • 24.5.2.2.3 | Amplification Components  o If a building or a structure cannot support the level of radio coverage that is considered mandatory as per its guidelines, they should be equipped with a public safety distributed antenna system or bi-directional signal amplification system to deliver the required radio coverage.
  • NFPA 1221 Section 9.6.3 o Systems shall have lightning protection that compiles with NFPA 780.
As you can see, Section 24 details the need to ensure the function of emergency communications within covered buildings, and these new sections are driving mandates throughout the country to improve overall public safety. It is important to note, however, that the requirements also highlight the need to protect those systems with electrical surge protectors to help make sure they will work when needed most. 
 
Here’s one recent example – the Florida legislature recently passed Florida Statute 633.202. This law is designed to help make sure that fire and police radios will work nearly everywhere inside commercial and residential high-rise buildings, particularly in places where radio coverage has typically been limited, such as basement areas, parking structures, stairwells, and building mechanical and control rooms. A specific provision of the law requires the installation and protection of distributed antenna systems (DAS) and bi-directional amplification systems (BDAs) to ensure radio coverage. New commercial buildings require compliance now, and there are firm deadlines for compliance in existing commercial buildings by 1/1/2022, and in existing highrise residential buildings by 1/1/2025. 
 
An important part of the new NFPA mandate is surge protection for BDA systems.  Without surge protection, a damaged system puts first responders and building occupants at elevated risk from every kind of emergency. BDAs can also be integrated in fire alarm systems, and the antennas could be a conduit for power surges that can lead to even more damage within those systems.
 
To keep two-way radio communications in proper working order at all times, it is essential to install surge protection solutions to protect BDA and distributed antenna systems. These coaxial antenna protectors are particularly important for external antennas that are exposed to lightning and other electrical disturbances. They are also widely used in the fire alarm industry for protecting cellular alarm communicators by  preventing accidental power surges from coming back into the alarm panel. 
 
Because it is important to protect all possible electrical system entry points from power surges, DITEK has a full selection of cost-effective surge protectors for incoming utility power, network connections, and control circuit wiring.
 
If mandates apply to your area, DITEK is ready to help you protect your BDA and DAS systems today. If mandates don’t apply, you can still act now to check emergency radio performance in your buildings and get ahead of the potential pending requirements. Contact your local public safety authorities for guidance and assessment and consider adding a BDA system if radio performance is poor. Count on DITEK to help protect all your essential building systems!
 
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