In the minutes following the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, a police helicopter radioed out that the second tower was also in danger. “I don’t think this has too much longer to go. I would evacuate all people within the area of that second building,” he said, according to the New York Times. Unfortunately, most firefighters never heard that warning, and neither did many police officers responding to the attacks, because the radio system had failed. Twenty-one minutes later, the building collapsed. In a more common scenario, a signal booster that is not functioning properly may cause interference on the local public safety radio network, causing the entire network to be compromised.
Needless to say, building managers are highly encouraged and, in an increasing number of cities and towns, required to prove BDA/DAS re-certification on an annual basis to avoid similar catastrophic communication failures, beyond noncompliance penalties.
The need for in-building wireless communications has driven efforts to develop national model codes by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Fire Code Council (IFC). Codes issued by these groups include the National Fire Code, National Electrical Code, International Fire Code, and International Building Code. Almost every city and county in the United States subscribes and complies with one or more of these codes.
The NFPA and IFC continue to develop national level model codes focused on In-Building Public Safety Communication Systems. National level model codes should also lead to standardization of the quality of equipment and to additional qualified in-building system engineers and installers.
The NFPA and IFC national level model in-building code development is being driven primarily by fire jurisdictions. However, the initiatives are expanded to involve all public safety, including law enforcement and emergency medical services.
The NFPA and IFC initiatives are separate but complementary. While the precise provisions of the draft codes vary between the two code development groups, key specifications involve significant commonality across the two initiatives. In addition, all the features of existing local codes are permissible under the new draft national level code framework.
Each jurisdiction can “customize” the national level model code to meet any unique local requirements. A number of jurisdictions have enacted or are considering enactment of local ordinances and codes which require a requisite level of public safety communications reliability in building as a condition for occupancy.
The specifics of these ordinances and codes vary, but most include:
General building areas should have 95% - independent of the fire panel, within the emergency command center to annunciate the status of any signal booster(s) with visual and labeled indication of the following for each signal booster:
Critical Area Coverage –99% coverage required in these critical areas:
General Area Coverage –All other areas should have 95%
CHAPTER 633- Fire prevention and Control Section 202- Florida Fire Prevention Code (18) The authority having jurisdiction shall determine the minimum radio signal strength for fire department communications in all new high-rise and existing high-rise buildings.
Some of the wording of the Florida Statute 633.202 is ambiguous – particularly as to whether the extensions granted to high-rise commercial and residential properties apply to other property types. Florida issued a Declaratory Statement [Case No. 217787-17-DS, Filed April 18, 2018] that clearly states that the extensions granted by the Florida Statute 633.202 to high-rise commercial and residential buildings does not apply to buildings under 75’ in height.
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