Public safety communications: How to meet NFPA and Ohio building code requirements for ERRS

National, state, and local fire codes require all new buildings in central Ohio to provide adequate indoor radio coverage for first responders.

As a general contractor, architect, property manager, or building owner, you may not know that in order to earn a certificate of occupancy, your building must provide emergency responder radio coverage that meets code requirements set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the state of Ohio, and local jurisdictions.

You may have heard that new buildings will require a public safety coverage solution of some kind. But understanding the details of how coverage is tested and how it can be improved is complicated, and can vary by jurisdiction.

This article offers an overview of emergency responder radio systems (ERRS) and code requirements for Columbus, Ohio. If you need help with ERRS testing, design, or integration, use the form on our Contact page or call us at 614-240-5999.

ERRS 101

A public safety communications system is a wireless communications system used by first responder and emergency services personnel such as police, fire, emergency medical, homeland security, and disaster response agencies. Following the tragic events of 9/11, national, state, and local fire codes were revised to ensure that first responders would have access to reliable radio communications by means of an ERRS.

An ERRS is an enhanced public-safety radio system that ensures signals penetrate all areas of buildings, including areas that are especially difficult for radio frequency (RF) to penetrate such as stairwells, basements, rooms with low-E glass windows, and thick-walled or shielded areas.

The components of an ERRS include a bi-directional amplifier (BDA), donor antenna, and in-building antennas. Costs for these systems vary based on the size of the building, the cabling pathways, and the number of antennas required to provide proper RF coverage.

typical bi-directional amplifier system.png

Today’s first responders not only rely on dependable voice communication, but increasingly on data, telemetry, and location information. In an emergency situation where a matter of seconds can mean the difference between life or death, every tool at the first responder’s disposal must be absolutely reliable.

Risk of non-compliance

Failing the ERRS test for new construction or major renovations could put your certificate of occupancy at risk. Existing buildings are not grandfathered from this code requirement and may need to undergo testing as well.

RF testing for new construction should be completed as soon as the building is closed in. For major renovations or existing buildings, the RF testing process is the same.

Fire code may require multiple points of RF or spectrum-analysis testing, including retesting after a failed test, testing after installation of a system, and annual testing for compliance.

Heat map from a radio frequency test

Heat map from a radio frequency test

Required signal strength

Ohio Building Code 915 states that emergency responder radio coverage shall be provided in all new buildings in accordance with Section 510 of the Ohio Fire Code, which in turn requires that all buildings must have approved radio coverage for emergency responders within the building.

To be considered acceptable, the emergency responder radio coverage must meet the minimum signal strength measurement of -95 dBm in 95% of all areas of each floor of the building.

ERRS equipment recently installed by IBS at an OSU fraternity house

ERRS equipment recently installed by IBS at an OSU fraternity house

National requirements

Following are important NFPA code requirements for ERRS:

  • Equipment Enclosures: All equipment supporting the public safety network must be housed in waterproof NEMA-4 or 4X-type enclosures.
  • Battery Backup: Equipment that supports the public safety radio system must be able to function for 24 hours on a backup battery (2 hours with a system on a generator).
  • Fire Ratings: Public safety electronic equipment must be installed in a two-hour fire rated room.

New Columbus guidelines for 2018

Some larger cities like Columbus have drafted their own guidelines to govern ERRS testing, permitting, and inspections. Each local jurisdiction can adopt unique ERRS ordinances; this means that the location of your building and the relevant local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) dictate which codes you must meet.

This fall, the Columbus Fire Department will issue additional ERRS requirements to be effective in 2018. Among the changes: an ERRS acknowledgement form must be submitted along with building plans to the building and zoning services department; a construction permit will be required to install or modify an ERRS and related equipment.

Learn more: ERRS Seminar on Nov. 15

Join Columbus Fire Department Battalion Chief David Ringley and Integrated Building Systems President Chip Chapman for an ERRS seminar on November 15, 2017, at 9 a.m. to learn more details about ERRS code requirements for design, equipment, budgeting, and testing.

Registration is required for this free event, to be held at the Integrated Building Systems offices, 950 Michigan Avenue, Columbus OH 43215.