Code Requires BDA Systems for New Construction

Bi-Directional-Amplifier-SystemDid you know that several recent code changes now require ALL new buildings to meet a minimum signal strength level (-95 dBm) for Fire, Police, and EMS radio signal?  The signal levels must be taken and recorded by an FCC licensed and factory certified individual in specified zone-sizes for each floor, and must be documented and submitted to the AHJ for approval. If any floor fails meeting the minimum threshold for signal level, the building shall have a BDA system (also referred to as ERCES) installed.  These systems, per code, can only be installed by FCC licensed installers like Strategic Connections.

Code also requires that these systems are re-inspected annually, or if major renovations are done to the building.

  Emergency Radio Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES) were first introduced in the 2009 International Building Code. Today’s codes, like the IBC 2015 Section 916 and the 2018 International Fire Code (ICC IFC-2018) Section 510, NFPA 72 2010, NFPA 1221 2016, and UL2524,  require all new buildings to have approved radio coverage for emergency responders within the building.  In North Carolina pursuant to Section 510 of the 2018 N.C. Fire Prevention Code, all new construction must now undergo a final signal strength study for Emergency Responder Radio Coverage. 

ERCES (BDAs) ensure that a building can pick up radio signals throughout the entire area, including basements, stairwells, and all critical areas so first responders can properly communicate during emergencies.

For many buildings to meet these code requirements and remove “dead spots,” our factory certified alarm system installation company can install bi-directional amplifiers. Learn more about this life-saving technology and whether or not your building needs it.

What Are Bi-Directional Amplifiers?

Bi-directional amplifiers boost signals for two-way radios within a building. Because multiple agencies are supported, the local Authority Having Jurisdiction will work with the system designer to ensure full coverage through the building, oversee what frequencies are supported, and test the system to ensure compliance and effectiveness. A BDA system works similarly to a distributed antenna system (DAS) which amplifies cell phone signals throughout a building, tunnel, or other structure, only it’s made for police, fire, and EMS radios and FirstNet’s dedicated public safety spectrum.

Factors Affecting Radio Signals in Buildings

BDA System installationWhile every building must comply with ERCES to ensure the building has the required amount of signal coverage, does every building need a BDA to achieve coverage? Not necessarily, as not all buildings have dead zones where a first responder can’t get coverage with their radio. Factors that affect antenna signal from reaching the entire building include:

  • Concrete or metal construction
  • Large buildings (generally 25,000 square feet or larger or buildings with multiple floors)
  • Underground spaces, including basements and parking garages
  • Low-E glass in the windows

Many building designers do not consider ERCES in their design and construction, which means that unless the AHJ or someone with a specialized FCC General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) has tested the location, it may not be in compliance. Not only are you facing fines, lack of signal within the building puts people in danger.

Why Are BDA Systems Important?

When there is an emergency within a building, tunnel, or other structure, first responders must be able to communicate reliably to one another no matter where they are in a building. Whether they need to request backup, warn others about a danger, or to ask questions, being able to reach out is literally a matter of life and death.

Unfortunately, 98 percent of first responders say they have experienced a lack of signal within a building and almost one-third have reported being unable to reach someone in the past six months.

Connecting a BDA System in Your Building

If you are working on a new construction it’s essential for your designer to factor in ERCES codes. However, if you have concerns about the construction or are in an older building, you need to know for sure if there is adequate signal throughout the building or if you need to invest in a BDA system.

An RF signal strength survey can be performed by a licensed FCC GROL-certified technician where they will measure the downlink and uplink signal strengths through the building. Results will be sent to the local AHJ, and if the coverage does not meet IBC requirements, an FCC-GROL tech can work with you and the AHJ to design an approved BDA System.

Contact Us for Bi-Directional Amplifier Systems

If you are unsure if your building meets code or you have new construction, we can help! We partner with Honeywell BDAs to design and create a system that ensures code compliance. Strategic Connections proudly serves Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Myrtle Beach, and the surrounding areas, providing expert fire, security, and BDA installation services. Call us today at (800)-255-5664 or fill out our contact form to learn more! 

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