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Real estate developers and building owners alike face multiple challenges before their buildings can be signed off and approved for occupancy and use. Public safety is the prime concern in large buildings, and occupants must be able to communicate with first responders and vice versa.

The International Fire Code (IFC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) require that all newly constructed buildings 50,000 sq ft or 10,000 sq ft below grade require a signal strength of -95dBm or better in the areas designated as “critical” areas -- elevators, stairwell, etc. -- in order to receive a certificate of occupancy. Failure to meet code could mean that a certificate of occupancy will not be issued until the code violation has been corrected.

It’s important that the building owner and or general contractors understand these requirements as it can be very costly installing a public safety system after the building is constructed.

What Is a Public Safety Signal Booster?

A public safety signal booster enhances all public safety frequencies (700MHz, 800 MHz, and 900 MHz), improving the quality of first responder communications, especially in buildings with weak signal strength in critical areas. To accommodate all types of public safety signals, as well as cell phone signals, public safety signal boosters are often available in multiple-band, multiple directional capacity, like the SureCall Guardian 3 QR.

What are the Common Compliance Codes for Public Safety Communications?

Given the history of building and safety codes, where local authorities originally adopted their own rules and regulations, a great number of codes exist. The confusion lies when each state, and even down to the city, has the ability to adopt and amend certain parts of codes and apply different fire safety standards. As local and state government looked to ways to standardize these codes, there are three main organizations that have set a national standard and regulate public safety compliance. The 3 organizations, sub-organizations and standards are included below.

National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) is the leading organization in defining fire, electrical, and other safety hazards. The organization was founded in 1896, and has more than 300 codes and standards (with 200+ backed by the American National Standards Institute). The top five codes from the NFPA are:

  • NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm & Signaling Code

    NFPA 72 provides modern benchmarks to the installation, performance, and maintenance of fire detection systems, emergency communications, and mass notification systems. This code includes stipulations for 99% cellular coverage in all critical areas of a building with a strong signal (minimum -95 dB), and battery power back-up lasting at least 24 hours.
  • NFPA 70: National Electric Code (NEC)

    NFPA 70 endorses guidelines to safe electrical wiring design and installation across all 50 states. Although not a law, it is considered the standard of electrical requirements in the U.S.
  • NFPA 70e: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace

    NFPA 70e establishes safety requirements and warnings to help companies and employees avoid workplace injuries due to shock and electrocution with safety-related work practices, maintenance, and requirements.
  • NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems

    NFPA 13 determines industry specification for automatic fire sprinkler systems from design, installation and component options.
  • NFPA 701: Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response

    NFPA 701 provides testing methods to determine the flammability/ flame retardancy of various textiles such as curtains, window shades, and other fabrics used in architectural structures.

International Code Council (ICC)

Established in 1994 and with over a dozen international codes ranging from building, zoning, fire, residential and energy conservation codes, these codes are accepted across the globe. ICC’s codes are updated every three years, with 2015 being the latest set of codes. Below are the two most widely used in the U.S.:

  • International Fire Code (IFC)

    The IFC establishes up-to-date fire safety and conditions to safeguard public health and safety in all buildings, structures, and premises. Currently, IFC codes are used in 42 states including the District of Columbia, New York City, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
  • International Building Code (IBC)

    The IBC provides current building design & installation to preserve public welfare with provisions to encourage newer smart technologies. IBC codes are used in all 50 states including Washington, D.C., Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, New York City, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet):

Authorized by Congress in 2012, FirstNet is an independent authority within the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA). Its mission is to build, operate, and maintain the first high-speed countrywide network solely for the field of public safety, using the 700 Mhz radio frequency spectrum. Its Nationwide Public Safety Broadband network (NPSBN) is the United States’ first unified public safety network to serve first responders (e.g. police, firefighters, U.S. marshals, etc.), EMS (e.g. ambulance, paramedics, technicians) and other public safety workers. Having both fire and building safety under one umbrella nationwide provides a modern standard for thousands of organizations and public safety workers at the local, state, and federal levels.

Given this widespread acceptance, FirstNet is the first organization to be widely accepted, paving the way for a standard of regulations. Additionally, most recently, FirstNet also selected AT&T to build and manage the first nationwide public safety broadband network solely dedicated to first responders.

It’s important to call out that cellular coverage is no longer an option but a requirement. Newly established guidelines generally require a baseline for adequate cellular coverage and signal strength, along with reliable equipment and a dedicated frequency band for public safety coverage.

Who Needs a Public Safety Signal Booster?

A few seconds of delay in communication is the difference between a life-altering incident occurring or preventing it from happening. Because of these safety concerns, updated fire and public safety codes have been implemented across facilities with high levels of foot traffic, namely places of business, as well as sensitive locations, including:

What to Look for in a Public Safety Signal Booster?

Another important distinction is the two types of public safety signal boosters. Find out your needs, then determine which of these two types would work best for you. Public safety signal boosters are generally what the FCC calls Part 90 signal boosters. These boosters are classified into two groups: Class A and Class B signal boosters.

Type of Public Safety Signal Boosters

  • Class A Signal Booster

    Boosters in this class are designed to transfer on one or more specific channels. DAS and high-powered boosters often fit into this classification, as they have a higher power and a more narrow signal filter. Class A signal boosters are also able to handle a larger coverage area because of their higher power.
  • Class B Signal Booster

    Class B boosters are generally limited to under 500K sq ft because of power limitations, but are generally half the cost of class A boosters. Class B signal boosters also must be registered with the FCC prior to operation.

However, there is more to it than just choosing between Class A and Class B, and signal booster installers and building owners need to consider the following:

Ensure the booster you choose meets local guidelines

Before purchasing a public safety signal booster for your facility, make sure to check on what guidelines your authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) abide by. The AHJ is not one group or organization. Rather, depending on the location of the building, and who is the jurisdiction in that area and the type of building (e.g. a hospital vs. an apartment building would have different AHJ). When in doubt, check with your local government to ensure you are meeting the necessary requirements and also getting the proper inspections needed to certify the building.

  • Determine coverage area

    To determine what type of booster you need, decide how much space needs to be amplified. Again, this need will depend heavily on AHJ as well as the type of building. Depending on the type of building, sometimes only the dead space (stairwells, etc.) needs amplification, and not the entire building.
  • Choose a booster that is FirstNet compliant

    With FirstNet moving towards becoming the governing regulatory body for first responders and equipment, choosing a booster that is FirstNet compliant will ensure that your booster is ready and compliant for future building codes and regulations.