Before obtaining certificates, licenses, and permits for occupying commercial buildings and property, several building codes must meet federal requirements and/or municipal zoning laws.
In general, these guidelines range from structural, electrical, mechanical, fuel/gas, plumbing, drainage, landscaping, accessibility, health, and fire safety.
Failing to comply with these requirements lead to rejected building permits, a re-approval process, and even penalties if the building is occupied for use while failing to address the prerequisites.
Today, we take an in-depth look at one of fastest evolving standards for commercial buildings: Fire & Public Safety Communication Codes.
Why fire & public safety codes are becoming a bigger priority
During times of emergency, especially without power, instant communication is an absolute necessity.
Think of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the influx of mass shootings, and the devastation of natural disasters, without clear communication, chaos ensues: People in dire need of safety aren’t able to relay critical information, first responders like police and firefighters aren’t able to prioritize rescue areas, and emergency support & recovery efforts are severely delayed.
In times of crisis, communication is an absolute. Any delay in response, even a few seconds, equates to poking the thin line that separates two possible realities: the warm bed or the closed casket.
With such concerns in mind, updated fire & public safety codes have been implemented across a wide spectrum of places of high populace and other sensitive locations such as:
- Multi-story buildings
- Shopping malls
- Parking Garages
- And other places of business
No effort is wasted to enforce building safety where people & their children live, play, and work are always kept safe.
Top Organizations that set the standards & regulation
Below are 3 organizations that have the most widely adopted codes and influence:
National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)
Founded in 1896 and with over 300 NFPA codes & standards (200+ backed by the American National Standards Institute), the NFPA is a leading organization in defining fire, electrical, and other safety hazards. Here are 5 of their top standards:
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.
Such benefits include 99% cellular coverage in all critical areas of a building with a strong signal (minimum -95 dB) with backed-up battery power lasting at least 24 hours.
NFPA 70: National Electric Code (NEC)
NFPA 70 endorses guidelines to safe electrical wiring design & installation across all 50 states. Although not a law, it is the de facto standard of electrical requirements in America.
NFPA 70e: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace
NFPA 70e establishes safety requirements & warnings to help companies & employees avoid workplace injuries due to shock & 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 (I-Codes) ranging from building, zoning, fire, residential and energy conservation codes, ICC codes are internationally accepted across the globe. Here are 2 codes that are widely used in the US.
International Fire Code (IFC) of 2015, 2012, 2009, 2006, etc.
The IFC (updated every 3 years) establishes up-to-date fire safety & conditions to safeguard public health & 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) of 2015, 2012, 2009, 2006, etc.
The IBC (updated every 3 years) 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, the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, New York City, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico
First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet):
Created in 2012, FirstNet’s mission is to build, operate, and maintain the first high-speed country-wide network solely for the field of public safety using the 700 Mhz radio frequency spectrum.
Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN)
NPSBN is the country’s first unified public safety network to serve first responders (police, firefighters, US marshals, etc.), EMS (ambulance, paramedics, technician, etc.) and other public safety workers. By having everything under one umbrella nationwide, it modernizes thousands of organizations & public safety workers at the local, state, and federal levels.
Departments that complete the building inspections
After plans are reviewed, approved, and construction completed, internal departments check for building code enforcement ranging from mechanical, electrical, plumbing, storm drainage, and the other conditions needing approval.
Regarding fire code, while the US Fire Administration helps educate and outline strategy about public safety and security, it’s generally the local fire marshall that approves fire code compliance thus helping with obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy.
While many states and local departments use NFPA and ICC codes, the confusion begins as each state, even down to the city, has the ability to adopt and amend certain parts of codes and apply different fire safety standards. This is also compounded by older buildings using older fire codes and vice versa.
For example, while the State of Texas requires a minimum of the 2006 International Fire Code, the city of San Antonio adopted the 2015 standard while Houston still uses the 2012 version. Austin also uses the 2012 guidelines but has different amendments.
So no fire code is exactly the same across states and even cities.
It’s best to see I-Codes by States and also see which areas are NFPA-compliant by looking into municipal websites.
The Biggest Evolution in Public Safety Industry
As with mandatory plumbing, fire sprinkler systems, and accessibility, reliable cellular coverage is no longer an optional feature but an essential component to everyday work & life standards.
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.
For example, NFPA requirements for public safety include:
- 95-99% in-building cellular coverage.
- Minimum -95 dBm signal strength for Public Safety Frequency Bands
- Nema 4 or 4x enclosures to house important radio equipment & be wind, dust, and waterproof.
- Some system require real-time monitoring system, failure alarm systems & 12-hours battery backup.
- Customizable frequency adjustment for future public safety requirements like FirstNet
Considering the growing number of commercial buildings and multi-story properties across the nation, having 95 to 99% radio coverage indoors sets the bar quite high.
Because, like residential property, maintaining quality incoming & outgoing cellular signal is a challenge, even moreso for commercial property.
Cell tower distance, outside interference, and even weather, in-building impediments such as concrete, metal shielding & environments, thick walls, modern energy efficient construction all play factors that severely weaken radio connectivity.
These types of challenges can lead to limited or no service in critical locations such as elevators, parking garages, and stairwells.
Because of these common issues, NFPA and ICC mandates that -95 dBm is acceptable for public safety frequencies.
Solutions for Improved Cellular Signal to Meet Fire & Public Safety Compliance
In-building Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) is one of the fastest-growing enterprise solutions. Basically, a DAS system is a network of antennas with a central amplifying system that enhances First Responder public safety frequencies.
While there are many different types of DAS technologies, the two leading Public Safety DAS tech are Active DAS and Passive DAS for in-building cellular amplification.
While both have the same objective to boost public safety radio frequency, there are differences between the two systems that need to be considered when selecting the right solution.
Active DAS actually requires connecting to each of the carrier networks thus resembling a mini-cell tower. This leads to much improved signal, but also much higher costs for specialized equipment & cabling. Also, the time needed to get each carrier approval can be a long bureaucratic process.
At $5-10 per square feet of coverage, Active DAS solutions can be very expensive and time-consuming, especially when compared to a Passive DAS solution. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend anything over 500,000 sq ft of coverage (like a stadium or airport) to consider Active DAS.
Passive DAS (also known as bidirectional amplifiers or repeaters) take existing outside signal, amplify it, and rebroadcast the boosted signal indoors. Unlike Active DAS, carrier permission is much quicker (usually a submitted online FYI form to carrier with no response needed) and cost per sq ft is much more cost effective at $1-2 per sq ft.
For coverage under 500,000 sq ft, Passive DAS is a much more cost-effective and faster deployment option.
Noteable Public Safety DAS Solutions:
- Digital multi channel RF signal booster
- Provides SMR 700/800MHz coverage for buildings, tunnels, metros and external environments
- NFPA 72-2010, chapter 24 and IFC 510.1 compliant
- Supports Band 14 for LTE 700 PS
- Supports APCO phase 1 and 2 for public safety networks
- Patented DSP filtering with up to 12 independent filters providing large flexibility
- Unique AGC (automatic gain control) or squelch feature per channel
- High performance noise and delay characteristics
- 30 dBm output power per band
- Compact IP-65, NEMA 4 enclosure, passively cooled
- Management via web based GUI
- Comba $1 Billion Dollar Company and Leader in the Wireless Industry with 25 years’ experience.
- Public Safety Offering for small to large buildings as well as campus environment; 25,000 to multi-million square feet.
- Compliant with all NFPA alarming requirements; 2 spare dry contacts points for future NFPA alarming regulations requirements.
- Compliant with all NFPA NEMA 4 enclosure requirements. Plus corrosion which is not required.
- Compliant with all NFPA Battery Backup requirements.
- Mandatory Isolation Testing which protects Public Safety Network from being interfered and degraded while commissioning of ERRCS.
- Public Safety BDAs protect network from network interference and desensitization of main network base station with specialized digital software programming and processing.
- Supports Dual‐Band 700/800 MHz
- NFPA 72 (2016) compliant Class B Amplifier
- 33 dBm (2W) Power Output DL/UL
- 90 dB Gain
- UL Listed
- FirstNet Ready
- Low Power ConsumpƟon
- 700 and 800 MHz Bands independently controlled
- Passband Options— Can be turned on/off independently
- Independent Power and Gain Control per Band
- Easy to Install and Maintain
- Dry contacts for Fire Panel Connection
SureCall Guardian 3 Quick Response
This public safety signal booster from SureCall is NFPA 72 & FirstNet compliant. It’s able to provide 90-99% coverage with a minimum -95 dB up to 80,000 sq ft for 100+ users per band (700 Mhz FirstNet, 800 MHz & 900 MHz SMR).
Along with a NEMA 4 housing, remote monitoring & battery backup capabilities, and a powerful 3 watt system providing +80 dB gain, it’s the perfect combination of performance & pricing.
Compared to other Public Safety DAS signal boosters, this passive DAS model has consistently been praised by system integrators & installers for its durability, speed-to-install, and price point. Highly recommended by commercial buildings under 80,000 sq ft.