The Importance Of In-Building Ubiquitous Wireless For First Responder Communications

With the increased frequency of natural and un-natural tragedies in today’s world, the necessity for complete First Responder communications coverage has reached an all-time high. It has become increasingly more imperative that venues of all types and sizes assure cellular and public safety service throughout the building for both occupants and First Responders.

In the event that a natural or un-natural event occurs in or around a venue, it is critical that both public safety and cellular first responder communications coverage works. First Responders communications need to be able to take place inside the venue, but these First Responders must also be able to communicate with the outside command. On the other hand, building occupants need to be able to contact 9-1-1, family, and friends in the event of an emergency. In the past, it was common for cellular service to be designed and deployed to support 95% of the total building space – often leaving elevators, bathrooms, stairwells and other areas commonly used as refuge without service. Recent events have demonstrated the fallacy of this method and reinforces the importance that the common refuge areas have coverage.

The Move Toward Requiring First Responder Communications Coverage

In order to ensure adequate in-building communications, it has become a common practice for local state and law enforcement buildings to demonstrate sufficient wireless First Responder communications. If the building in question does not inherently support these frequencies, then a repeater or an in-building wireless system is required. If designed and deployed properly, an in-building wireless system can support both First Responder signals and cellular service providers signals.

Of the many tragedies that have occurred as a result of a lack of in-building communications solutions, positive movements have been made to ensure that these incidents decrease in frequency. Many states and/or municipalities have recognized the importance of First Responder communications and have passed ordinances requiring new building to demonstrate adequate signal coverage, battery backup, fire rated cable and enclosures, and alarming. In fact, the trend now is for the ordinances to include the same requirement for existing buildings and requiring a plan be filed within the next couple of years, ultimately requiring complete compliance within five years.

The most commonly accepted standards are National Fire Protection Code (NFPA), specifically NFPA 72 2016 and the International Fire Code (IFC.) One of the roles of the Safer Building Coalition is to be a resource to help bring awareness and understanding to the codes and their enforcement.

By Jeff Hipchen | SBC Board President & EVP at RF Connect

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NYC Bombing Places Emergency Alert System On Center Stage

emergency-alert systemThe recent bombing in New York City placed the government’s emergency alert system at the center of the public’s attention. As millions of people frantically scrambled for any information available, they all received a mass alert about a bombing suspect that included the phrase “See media for pic.” Due to the constraints of the old technology that the U.S. alert system currently operates on, the mass notification was limited to 90 characters of text. Chief Alan Perdue (Ret.), Executive Director of the Safer Buildings Coalition, offers his comments on the event:

“Mass notification emergency alert systems are a great resource for notifying people of important information related to a current or impending incident. However, a critical component to the success of the system is that those being notified actually receive the message.  Adequate signal coverage for both the public and public safety personnel including inside buildings is paramount to everyone’s safety. Make sure those you love have coverage where they work, play and live…  ” 

Below you’ll find a brief snippet from The Wall Street Journal‘s coverage of the NYC bombing: 

“‘The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote later this month on rules that would add more features to alerts, potentially including longer messages and web links to photos. The wireless industry supports expanding the message length, but has resisted other changes, fearing they will overwhelm networks.

On Monday morning, an alert was sent seeking help locating Ahmad Khan Rahami, a suspect in the New York City bombing. Mr. Rahami was taken into custody hours later, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the alert was ‘extremely helpful’ in tracking the suspect down in Linden, N.J.

‘We think it created a lot of focus and urgency,’ Mr. de Blasio said. ‘From what we know right now, it definitely contributed to the successful apprehension of this suspect. This is a tool we will use again in the future…’

… Last November, the FCC proposed rules that would expand messages to 360 characters and improve geo-fencing accuracy, as well as allow for the inclusion of phone numbers and web links to pictures in missing-children alerts.

Officials in New York City agree the system needs to be updated for the smartphone era and for sending non-English messages. But they caution the system must remain accessible to the widest possible group of users, including people with basic cellphones or tourists visiting with different types of devices.”

FCC Votes To Change Emergency Alert System

As a result of the display of a somewhat flawed emergency alert system On September 29, 2016, the FCC voted that emergency alerts be allowed to transmit messages up to 360 characters, and that all wireless carriers must support Spanish -language alerts. You can read more about the FCC’s vote here.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money.

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FirstNet Announces Eight Grant Awards For Public Safety Entities


PHOTO COURTESY: New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYS DHSES,

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announced on August 18th the funding of eight awards for its Band 14 Incumbent Spectrum Relocation Grant Program (Band 14 Program). This program provides financial assistance to eligible public safety entities for relocating their existing radios and systems from Band 14 in advance of the deployment and operation of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). The list below includes the eight awardees and their total award amounts:

  • Illinois Emergency Management Agency –$14,025,249.5
  • Virginia State Police – $7,304,459.00
  • Arkansas State Police – $3,830,939.89
  • Massachusetts State Police –$1,554,610.00
  • Department of Defense, Honolulu County, Hawaii –$44,533.38
  • Marshall Fire Department, Michigan –$23,500.00
  • Stamford Fire Department, Connecticut –$15,870.00
  • Post Falls Police Department Idaho –$13,470.00

FirstNet released the Band 14 Program Federal Funding Opportunity notice on March 16, 2016. All grant applications underwent a competitive review process for the Band 14 Program. This included a technical review by independent peer reviewers with subject matter expertise who verified whether each applicant provided a technically feasible and viable solution to relocate its communications systems from the Band 14 spectrum.

“Public safety’s needs are our top priority, and we are pleased to be working hand-in-hand with these Band 14 public safety incumbents,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. “The awarding of these grants will help to ensure a smooth transition for these entities while at the same time making sure the spectrum is free and clear for the deployment of public safety’s nationwide wireless broadband network.”

Awardees will have one year to complete their project plans and relocate their existing radios and systems under the Band 14 program. FirstNet will begin tracking the progress of each grantee’s spectrum relocation efforts, providing assistance in meeting the goal of clearing the spectrum within 12 months. Examples of activities conducted by awardees will include reprogramming, retuning, and reconfiguring equipment to ensure effective transition out of the Band 14 spectrum.


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Member Feature | SOLiD Ensures In-Building Wireless Communications Coverage at Republican & Democratic National Conventions


As an organization that advocates for in-building wireless  communications coverage – especially coverage for public safety – it is important that our members align with that mission. With that being said, we are proud to feature one of our member companies, SOLiD – a leader in wireless infrastructure – and the work they did in efforts to keep attendees connected and covered during both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this past month.

in-building wireless communications

Quicken Loans Arena

By updating the wireless networks at both Cleveland’s Quicken Loan Arena and the Pennsylvania Convention Center with SOLiD’s state-of-the-art distributed antenna systems (DAS), thousands of convention delegates, reporters, and attendees were able to seamlessly text, call, upload photos and video, check social media, and react to news in real time. The ability to communicate during these types of events is not only important from a media coverage standpoint, but also from a public safety standpoint as well. In an in-building emergency situation, it is imperative that first responders are able to communicate with those inside. The use of SOLiD’s DAS during these events ensures that those in-building wireless communications are possible.

As numbers for both conventions were expected to reach over 80,000 in attendance, the in-building wireless communications networks at both venues were able to ensure that critical phone calls, text messages, and media files were delivered – even during the height of convention activity. In the words of SOLiD Americas president Ken Sandfeld, “This year’s political conventions are the most connected and reliable in history. Unprecedented volumes of wireless data will be transmitted at both the Republican and Democratic National Convention venues, and the wireless network is ready, thanks to SOLiD’s ALLIANCE product line, which provides robust edge densification to the carrier networks.”

in-building wireless communications

Pennsylvania Convention Center

Distributed antenna systems (DAS) extend in-building wireless communications coverage so that people can stay connected everywhere – on the subway, in a stadium, at the mall, in their office, etc. SOLiD’s DAS solutions have been engineered to support multiple carriers and public safety bands, ensuring that people can stay safe and connected. Installation of a SOLiD DAS includes placing dozens of remote radio units throughout the venue. Each of these units acts like a mini cell tower to broadcast a carrier’s signal  into the building. This eliminates the dead zones that may result from building materials, and enables the capacity to communicate through congested areas.

From a public safety standpoint, it is critical that large venues possess the ability to provide coverage to those inside – especially during an emergency situation. Without it, lives may be lost. As a coalition, we are proud to have SOLiD on board as a member and fellow advocate for in-building public safety communications.

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Quicken Loans Arena photo: Erik Drost, Wiki Commons; PACC photo: BMK, Wiki Commons



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In-Building Public Safety Vertical Location Technologies May Solve Large Building Communication Problems

Large buildings pose special challenges for public safety communications for two main reasons: Cell signals can have a tough time penetrating walls, and traditional navigation technologies do not provide vertical location information, a.k.a. z-axis data. Several government bodies, including the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), are in a hurry to fix those problems.

FirstNet is looking into a variety of technologies, including barometric air-pressure sensors that can be installed in mobile devices to help determine altitude, much in the same way altimeters are used in airplanes. Researchers at FirstNet’s technical headquarters in Boulder, Colo., have also been examining terrestrial location service beacons capable of penetrating buildings that block GPS signals, and smart building technology made up of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy beacons.

Two other location techniques under examination by FirstNet are Uplink Time Difference of Arrival (UTDOA) and Observed Time Difference of Arrival (OTDOA). Many networks today use UTDOA to determine location by deploying special receivers at cell sites to measure uplink signals from devices. With OTDOA, the device measures the time difference between downlink positioning signals from several cell sites, and the measurements then are sent to a location server.

Finally, FirstNet is researching RF (radio frequency) pattern matching technology in which the network measures signal levels from several cell sites and matches the data to a database of RF patterns.

in-building public safety vertical location technologies

Standards For Establishing In-Building Public Safety Vertical Location Technologies

Meanwhile, vendors are busy working with commercial wireless carriers on similar technologies in compliance with a 2015 FCC order to help emergency responders more accurately locate 911 callers indoors. By 2018, nationwide wireless carriers have to provide uncompensated barometric data – from handsets capable of delivering it – to public safety answering points.

The carriers were also given three years to come up with a proposal for z-axis accuracy and submit it to the commission for approval. By 2021, they have to deploy z-axis technology or dispatchable location technology that achieves the approved metric in the 25 largest cellphone market areas. Also by 2021, they must be able to provide 50-meter horizontal accuracy for 80 percent of all wireless 911 calls.

The wireless telecom association, CTIA, has established a plan for testing technologies to see if they comply with the FCC mandates. Toward the end of this year, technologies not currently deployed will be tested in 20 buildings in Atlanta and San Francisco. As the industry gears up for the tests, vendors are announcing a variety of advancements in the field.

TruePosition Inc., based in Berwyn, Pa., is championing a new set of capabilities called Machine to Machine/Internet of Things (M2M/IoT) for its TrueFix location system. The system, designed for emergency call location purposes as well as enterprise applications, uses Wi-Fi location technology to optimize performance indoors and in dense urban areas. Vertical location information is available for devices with barometric pressure sensors. The most recently announced capability aims to make it easier to locate small devices in environments without GPS by installing an Ultra-Light Software Development kit on them.

NextNav LLC, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is promoting upgrades to its Metropolitan Beacon System. The company calls the beacon system a “terrestrial constellation” that brings GPS-like positioning performance to indoor and dense urban environments. The system is touted as delivering high precision altitude information, in addition to latitude and longitude information, without using up expensive spectrum.

Canadian vendor Rx Networks recently announced a new business unit, Fathom, with products designed to help manage large-scale beacon deployments. The company is touting its Fathom Hub as a way to turn stand-alone beacons into a network capable of reporting on the location and status of all beacons in the area. The technology also transmits location data from Bluetooth Low Energy devices.

These vendors are among more than two dozen companies and associations that make up the Z-axis working group, which was set up by CTIA to develop a plan for delivering barometric pressure data to public safety answering points. The group will also evaluate vertical location technology performance once results from the tests are in.

By Caron Carlson – Safer Buildings Coalition Contributor

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