What Is Public Safety DAS
Public Safety DAS (Distributed Antenna System) is a public safety communication system that allows first responders to maintain wireless communication within buildings during life threatening emergencies. Public Safety DAS is mandatory and is an important tool to ensure the safety of emergency responders such as Firefighters and Police Officers. Public Safety DAS works by utilizing a bidirectional amplifier (BDA) system in buildings that brings the wireless signal into structures from the outside. In emergency situations, such as natural disasters, fires and medical emergencies, radios are largely relied upon to effectively respond. Public Safety DAS gives radio signals the ability to access areas in buildings such as elevators, stairwells, basements, parking garages and any thick or shielded areas, and ensures reliability and instant communication without interference.
Public Safety Communication Failures of The Past
During the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack of the World Trade Center, the ability to rescue victims was hindered by technical difficulties with radio communications. In the aftermath of the collapse of the south tower of the World Trade Center, police helicopters communicated that the second tower’s collapse was eminent. New York City Police officers received the warning and were able to evacuate the building prior to its collapse. The members of the Fire Department never received the orders to evacuate due to the failure of their radios. Their radio systems failed continuously on the morning of September 11th and some emergency responders in the north tower were unaware that the first tower had collapsed. The radios were known to have communication issues in high rise buildings and on that crucial morning many members of the Fire Department lost track of each other. In addition to the radio systems failure, the radio systems of the Fire Department and the Police Department were not compatible, and both had no way of communicating with each other.
In the 19 years since the September 11th attacks, there have been numerous other failures in the public safety communication systems used by first responders. In February 2018, emergency personnel responded to a high school shooting in Broward County in Florida but were unable to communicate due to the high radio traffic that inundated the system. Officers were unable to transmit or receive messages over the radio, in addition, the officers from the two counties that responded had difficulties communicating with each other and were unable to exchange crucial information.
The Importance of Public Safety DAS
The failure of the communication systems during the September 11th attacks and other subsequent failures led to an overhaul of the public safety communication systems. Municipalities passed mandates to ensure that property owners complied with newly adopted standards. With the implementation of the updated Public Safety DAS, communication between police, fire department, and other emergency personnel was achievable. The new regulations allow first responders to transmit and receive communication through their radios in all areas of a building. Many counties in the United States have enacted ordinances that require buildings to meet a minimum standard for all public safety communication systems. Every county has its own set of code requirements, so it’s important that owners become familiar with all provisions of the relevant codes and standards governing their area. Buildings must also be tested by a certified Public Safety DAS professional and property owners must ensure that buildings meet all the required standards.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Code Council (ICC) develop the standards and codes for Public Safety DAS. The NFPA and the ICC develop model codes at the national level that regulates the public safety communication systems. Included under these entities are the National Fire Code, the National Electrical Code and the National Building code. Most municipalities adhere to one or more of these groups for their public safety communication systems regulations. The NFPA and the ICC are two separate entities whose regulations work in tandem.
Counties and Cities develop their specific ordinances and codes for Public Safety DAS based off of the NFPA and ICC national model codes. These ordinances and codes must include:
· A minimum signal strength
· A specific frequency band or bands for public safety coverage
· A specific level of reliability (power back up, water protection, cable protection)
· Application of the limit over a percentage of each floor
· Provisions for penalties
· Testing requirements and procedures, monitoring and maintenance standards
· Provisions for waivers of the requirements
New York City Public Safety Communication Systems
As a response to the public safety communication systems failures of the past, New York City (NYC) requires that a public safety radio communication system be installed in all newly constructed high-rise buildings. The system is a wireless two-way building communication system solely for the use of the Fire Department. It is designed to receive and transmit radio frequencies from the inside of a building. The installation, testing, operation and maintenance of the public safety radio communication system is regulated by the NYC Building Code and the NYC Fire Code.
The Property Owners Responsibility
Ensuring compliance of Public Safety DAS is the responsibility of the building owner. Counties and cities develop ordinances and codes for public safety communication systems as a precondition for occupancy. Owners must learn the governing codes that apply to their properties in order to remain compliant. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) inspects facilities and determines whether NFPA standards and codes are being implemented properly. Most AHJ’s are fire marshals and are in charge of enforcing regulations. The AHJ can enforce and also impose additional requirements or amend according to their judgement.
Public Safety DAS provides first responders with a reliable communication system that operates between different emergency and governmental entities. And allows for the secure transmission of essential information that can save the lives of both first responders and the public.