All new buildings must have approved radio coverage for emergency responders inside based on coverage levels of the public safety communication systems outside the building. Emergency responder radio communication systems (ERRCS), also called two-way radio communication enhancement systems, are required in jurisdictions where the International Fire Code (2009 edition or later), International Building Code (2009 or later), NFPA 1, Fire Code (2012 or later) or NFPA 72 (2013 or later) have been adopted..
You may not have technicians with the necessary communications background or FCC licensing to install such a system. Additionally, the requirements for the system design and operation are no longer in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. NFPA 72-2019, Section 24.9.2 states, “All in-building two-way radio communications enhancement systems shall be designed, installed, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems.”
The ERRCS’ purpose is to provide emergency responders with reliable radio communications while in the structure. They replace firefighter telephones previously only installed in high-rise buildings.
There are two exceptions to the ERRCS requirement:
- Where approved by building and fire code officials, a wired communication system in accordance with IBC Section 907.2.13.2 shall be permitted to be installed or maintained in lieu of an approved radio coverage system.
- Where it is determined by the fire code official that the radio coverage system is not needed.
The ERRCS installation must be supervised by a qualified individual possessing a general radiotelephone operators license (GROL) granted by the FCC, in addition to the manufacturer’s issued certificate of fitness. Prior to the system installation, the technician with the GROL must conduct a field strength survey.
The contractor must design, furnish, install, certify and place in operating condition a complete two-way radio communications enhancement system, which must include, but is not limited to, all control equipment including dedicated radio monitors, signal boosters, coaxial cable, power supplies, hardware, software and all other accessories required to meet the code.
The system designer must obtain a copy of the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)’s technical documents for its specific requirements and integrate them into the system design, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Frequencies required
- Operational mode of those frequencies
- Unit ID and emergency alert signaling
- Installation specifications
- Test equipment specifications
- Other supporting technical information necessary to direct system design
System performance requires that all system components support frequencies as directed by the local AHJ and that the signal boosters be tuned and programmed to uplink and downlink.
Other performance requirements include that minimal signal levels, as determined by the AHJ, must be received at 95% of all general areas of the structure’s floor space.
Critical areas such as the emergency command center, fire pump room and other areas the AHJ deems critical must be provided with 100% floor area coverage above the minimal signal levels.
All equipment with active electronics must be constantly monitored. Failure to do this must result in contact closure for reporting to the fire alarm panel.
The two-way radio communications enhancement system must maintain operations during fire conditions. If an antenna or cable is exposed to fire, vandalism or other adverse conditions, the other equipment’s operation must not be adversely affected. This can be done using two-hour rated construction as protection for the cables and amplifiers and by the amplifier circuit design—fusing each circuit to meet the system’s survivability requirements.
Finally, the building will have acceptable emergency responder radio coverage when signal strength measurements in 95% of all areas on each floor meet the code or standard requirements.
The ERRCS must be installed by someone trained in radio systems. It’s important to know the right questions to ask the subcontractor while understanding the importance of system and subcontractor approval by the AHJ. The ERRCS will probably be in your contract, so get outside help as early in the bidding process as possible to ensure the system is not a profit sinkhole.
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