As a first responder, your radio is one of the most essential tools at your disposal. Communication, whether it’s keeping other first responders in the loop or asking for help, is always key in this line of work. During an event like a fire or other disaster, being able to send and receive crucial information can be the literal difference between life and death.
But your radio is only as good as your signal. If you need help or need to tell other people on your team to go to a certain location or avoid a part of the building, and that message isn’t going through, lives can be lost, rescue can be delayed, and the outcomes will be much worse.
To help you better prepare for emergencies, we are sharing building issues that can block signals as well as the technologies that are available to fight signal loss and keep you and other first responders safe.
What Causes Signal Loss in Buildings?
Over 98 percent of first responders, including EMTs, fire fighters, and law enforcement officers, report dead spots where there is no signal for their radio. Of these, 56 percent reported that they have experienced communication failure from inside a building they have been called to in the past two years.
So, what causes these dead spots? Often, it’s simply architecture and building design, including:
- Obstructions like trees and other buildings can weaken signals even before they reach the building
- Underground locations often don’t get full signals
- Low-emissivity glass used to minimize infrared and UV rays blocks signals
- Steel and concrete weaken signals to interior areas.
Areas in the building like stairwells, interior, windowless spaces, underground areas like basements and parking locations are especially prone to dead spots.
Technology Used to Improve Signal Strength and Building Coverage
With innovations in technology, there are now several ways to boost signal strength within a building and eliminate dead zones.
Distributed Antenna System
A distributed antenna system (DAS) is a network of antenna nodes that are connected to a main antenna source in order to provide radio frequency signal throughout an entire area.
Radiating Cable System
The radiating cable system, also called a “leaky cable,” is a long antenna that’s highly flexible and contains slots throughout that broadcast RF signals. It can enhance emergency radio signals, and its flexibility allows it to be installed easily in small areas, in stairways, and winding corridors. However, it doesn’t amplify the signal, and the signal it gives off can weaken over longer distances.
Bi-Directional Amplifiers Are Key to Comprehensive Coverage
For buildings with a distributed antenna system, a bi-directional amplifier (BDA) is key to eliminating dead zones completely and ensuring first responders have the radio signal they need to keep communication flowing freely. As it receives a signal from an antenna, it can distribute and boost the signal throughout the building, including basements, stairwells, and other common dead zones.
It’s important to note that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Fire Code (IFC) lay out building standards and code recommendations for municipalities to include in local building codes. In the NFPA code, 18.104.22.168.3 Amplification Components states that buildings that can’t provide 99 percent signal coverage need to be equipped with a radiating cable system or a DAS with signal boosters to achieve the legally-required radio coverage. This means that more new buildings are equipped with BDAs as building codes are updated and many buildings are being retrofitted with them.
Learn More About Bi-Directional Amplifiers
At Strategic Connections, we install Honeywell BDAs in new and existing buildings as well as fire and security systems across Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Myrtle Beach. In addition to being an experienced BDA installation company, Strategic Connections can also provide updates, maintenance, and post-installation support to ensure buildings are safer for first responders. To learn more, reach out to us today at Call us today at (800)-255-5664 or fill out our contact form.