FAQs: Fire code and emergency responder radio systems (ERRS)

Building owners: Did you know that it’s your responsibility to make sure first responder radios work in your facility? Learn requirements for first responder radio coverage in these frequently asked questions.

What is an emergency responder radio system (ERRS)?

Emergency services personnel such as police, fire, emergency medical, homeland security, and disaster response agencies communicate with a wireless public safety system. But many times the hand-held radios used with this system do not work properly due to a variety of environmental factors, including the building’s construction materials or sightline to a radio tower.

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.

Fire code and Ohio building code now require building owners to provide first responder radio coverage in their facility, by means of a supplemental ERRS if needed.

What types of buildings need ERRS coverage? All commercial facilities, including high-rise buildings, multi-use properties, senior living facilities, performance halls, schools, factories, and warehouses.

An ERRS is an enhanced public-safety radio system that operates much like a cell phone. It allows important information such as the first responder’s physical condition and location to be transmitted back to a management location to help coordinate the emergency response.

To work properly, the ERRS radio signals must penetrate all areas of a building, including spaces 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.

In these hard-to-reach areas, a distributed antenna system (DAS) must be installed to allow that communication to work. The components of an ERRS DAS include a bi-directional amplifier (BDA), donor antenna, and in-building antennas.

What types of buildings are affected?

National, state, and local fire codes as well as Ohio building code require all new commercial buildings in Ohio to provide adequate indoor radio coverage for first responders, including high-rise commercial buildings, multi-use properties, senior living facilities, performance halls, schools, factories, and warehouses.  

Major renovations to existing buildings must also support ERRS and require testing for compliance, subject to the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

Each facility must be tested to verify the ERRS system can reach any location that an emergency responder may need to go to inside the building.

When should a building be tested?

With new buildings, an initial ERRS test can be completed once the building’s core and shell are complete and all windows and doors are installed.

As the building ages, it is likely to change due to tenant improvements, remodels, and additions. All of these activities can affect the radio signal available within the building; the building should be retested after the renovations are complete.

How is an ERRS test conducted?

Professional-grade RF spectrum analyzers are used to measure signal strength throughout the building, following a specified grid pattern. Test results are compiled into a report to be submitted to the building owner and fire department for their review.

What if my building fails the radio-frequency test?

Failing the ERRS radio-frequency test means that the building must be equipped with a DAS with an appropriate battery back-up system. The certificate of occupancy may not be issued if the building fails this test.

ERRS DAS designs must be submitted to and approved by the fire department or local building department, which will then issue a construction permit. After the system is installed, the vendor will be required to have the building tested and submit the compiled results to the fire department, which will conduct a final inspection and sign-off.

Integrated Building Systems offers ERRS testing, system design, and installation. Our ERRS customers in Central Ohio include:

Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, Ohio State University
National Veterans Memorial and Museum
First & Main of New Albany
Battelle Memorial Institute
Trivium Development
CCL Industries
The Brunner building
The Flower Child vintage shop
Columbus Metropolitan Library, Northern Lights branch
Tri-Village Storage
Middlefield Bank
Hopkins Printing

What does ERRS testing and DAS cost?

As every building is different in its layout, structure, and functionality, the cost to test for ERRS signals will vary. For budgeting purposes, plan for testing costs of $250 to $1,500 for buildings of 5,000 to 150,000 square feet.

Costs for ERRS DAS design and installation depend on many variables, including the size of the building, how many areas need signal boosting, the number of antennas needed, access to pathways, and cabling infrastructure.

For budgeting purposes, plan for $.75 to $2.00 per square foot for an ERRS system, depending on the size of the building. The design and permit package will typically be $1,000 to $1,750.

Should an ERRS be included as part of the overall building design?

An ERRS DAS should be included as a budget item for any new construction or major renovation project in order to prioritize spending and ensure this requirement can be met, if needed.

Design-stage plans for the overall technology infrastructure can address potential pathway and connectivity issues for first responder radio coverage.

However, only test results conducted after the core and shell are completed will give a definitive answer as to whether an ERRS DAS system is actually needed. It may not be needed at all, or may be needed only in specific areas.

Does my building need to be retested?

Yes, the ERRS coverage must be retested annually, just like a fire alarm system, sprinkler system, or emergency lighting systems. Specific guidelines can vary by jurisdiction.

Buildings may also need to be retested if the local authorities change their radio frequencies or if they have updated from an analog to a digital based system.

Other construction or environmental issues may create the need for retesting. For example, your building’s ERRS may come into question if a tall building is constructed that blocks your building’s connection to a radio tower. Facility upgrades like new windows with low-E glass may inhibit radio signals.

Do you need ERRS testing at your facility?

Integrated Building Systems will help you meet every fire and building code requirement for an emergency responder radio system:

  • Initial testing when the core and shell are finished

  • System design

  • Installation

  • Final testing before certificate of occupancy can be issued

  • Annual inspections and testing as required

Contact us to ask questions, schedule an ERRS test, or get a quote for the design and installation of an ERRS system.