Complying with requirements for public safety DAS, or distributed antenna systems, can be daunting for everyone involved, including the municipal officials in charge of enforcement.
Developers, contractors and building owners are looking to municipalities to offer guidance, oversee testing and ultimately give the blessing for building occupancy permits. It can be a lot of information to keep track of, especially when the stakes are so high.
For building owners and municipal officials asking and fielding questions about public safety DAS, here’s a quick reference guide to keep handy.
Why Public Safety DAS
For police, firefighters and other first responders, reliable radio coverage saves lives, which is why ensuring such coverage in new buildings is now the law across the country. Building owners must have systems in place that keep communications open, no matter how dire the emergency or circumstances.
In crafting radio coverage requirements, officials in public safety and building codes have looked to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and International Fire Code (IFC), which both issue their own standards.
While the standards don’t specifically mandate public safety DAS, they do have recommendations for “radio enhancement systems,” or RES, that across the industry are understood to be bi-directional amplifier (BDA) system or a distributed antenna system (DAS).
The idea is that without enhancement, buildings wouldn’t be able to provide the life-saving level of radio coverage that’s needed.
How a DAS Works
A DAS works by picking up wireless signals and frequencies and redistributing them throughout a building or area, especially to hard-to-reach spots like stairwells, garages and tunnels, or in hilly, secluded, or rural locations.
A distributed antenna system is a network of antennas placed indoors and outdoors that work with bi-directional amplifiers to amplify radio and commercial carrier signals and frequencies. Other components of a DAS include coaxial or fiber cabling and hybrid couplers.
Radio Coverage Recommendations
The National Fire Protection Agency has more specific guidance than the IFC, and it divides buildings into two types of areas: general building areas and critical areas.
Critical areas include exit stairways and passages, elevator lobbies and emergency command centers. These critical areas must have 99% radio coverage, and general building areas must have 90% coverage.
Best Practices for Officials
An authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), or organization tasked with enforcing coverage codes and standards, is expected to have all of the answers, but navigating the recommendations and requirements isn’t easy.
These best practices can be a good place to start:
Be clear about who the coverage requirements affect: More jurisdictions are setting coverage goals for both new construction and existing buildings. If you decide not to grandfather in older buildings, set clear rules about who’s affected, whether it’s all buildings over a certain size or just those that have had or are planning renovations.
Make requirements readily available: Making DAS requirements available may seem like an obvious step, but it’s one that can get easily overlooked. Making sure pre-construction requirements and procedures have been clearly defined internally and openly published externally will save time and hassles for everyone.
Know what you don’t know: If you don’t have the expertise in-house to inspect public safety DAS plans or oversee testing, consider the wisdom of outside help or third-party certification. It’s also important to encourage developers and building owners to have their distributed antenna system solutions professionally installed to avoid costly mistakes or missteps.
The NFPA and IFC have set guidelines for new construction, however building owners may not realize that local jurisdictions are becoming increasing stringent in enforcing these rules that they won't grant a certificate of occupancy (CO) until they are met. Without a CO, a tenant cannot move into the building. It will cost a building owner substantial more to comply after the fact than if they planned for it from the beginning.
A DAS Does It
A distributed antenna system ensures that a building or facility is compliant with the recommendations from public safety communications experts, and it and provides dependable communication coverage for police and first responders when they need it most.