Interview with Chief McCarraher | In-Building Communications – Improvements For Public Safety

Our in-building communications have greatly improved over the years, but the industry still faces some significant challenges.  Although organizations such as the Safer Building Coalition have increased the awareness of these issues, the need for improved technologies and policies still remains.

Simplifying Code

In order to improve communication between emergency responders and in-building personnel, it’s important for building owners to have an affordable, interoperable in-building wireless communication system.  However, knowing which jurisdiction adopts certain codes can be fairly complicated and is the source of a lot of confusion for building owners.

While new code changes may seem like a burden, they are critical in the efforts to improve upon public safety.  Advocating for a streamlined code and bringing standards as close together as possible may help reduce much of the confusion.

Rollout of FirstNet

Another exciting development underway is the rollout of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the nation’s first broadband public safety network.  The benefits of FirstNet are widespread, but many building owners are still wondering what impact it may have on in-building solutions.

SBC Executive Director Chief Alan Perdue (Ret.) recently discussed the topic with International Association of Fire Chiefs Communication Committee Chair Gary McCarraher in the Safer Buildings Coalition Podcast.  In the podcast, McCarraher stated that FirstNet would not have a huge impact on in-building solutions initially because of the need for technological improvements.

“I’m guessing that [land mobile radio] is going to be around for at least another generation,” McCarraher said.  “The VBA system will be a critical component of critical mission voice for public safety.”

To hear the entire conversation between Chief Perdue (Ret.) and Chief McCarraher, check out the video below:

Hope For Future Improvement

The good news is that the future looks bright for improving upon in-building public safety communications.  Stakeholders in the industry are getting together to find unique solutions to the most pressing challenges that we face today.  By working side-by-side to develop better technologies and comprehensive code, we can dramatically improve in-building communications for the future.

Learn more about joining the SBC by clicking here.  Also be sure follow us on our Facebook page, Twitter (@SaferBuildings), and connect with us on LinkedIn.

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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.

Learn more about joining the SBC by clicking here.  Also be sure follow us on our Facebook page, Twitter (@SaferBuildings), and connect with us on LinkedIn.

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



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Code Update | Florida In-Building Fire Code

With threats to public safety amplified by recent events locally and abroad, the importance of staying focused on moving the needle forward for instituting in-building communication platforms cannot be overstated.  However, as with any public safety movement involving multiple stakeholders with different concerns and priorities, advocating for a technologically sound, well regulated, affordable, interoperable and widespread system of wireless, in-building communication systems is very complicated, to say the least.  That brings us to the recent developments regarding the Florida in-building fire code. 

It’s All In The Code 

In the U.S. today, state and local fire codes represent one of the main enforceable methodologies through which extensive systems for wireless communication can be introduced into building regulations and regularly enforced.

For example, the local jurisdiction for the state of Florida’s in-building fire code safety regulations are dictated by the latest edition of the Florida Fire Prevention Code (FFPC), derived from the model codes and standards provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1: Fire Code) and the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101).  Adopted codes are enforced through the permitting of new building construction and maintenance inspections for existing buildings, and are generally updated every three years  

New codes regarding the future of in-building wireless communications for public safety are constantly being introduced, debated and modified, involving everything from permits, signal strength and amplification, data network performance, testing and proof of compliance, as well as technical criteria, standby power for system design and many more implementation and management concerns3.  State-specific amendments to the 6th edition of the NFPA are currently being evaluated in Florida for adoption and implementation at the end of 2017.  A relatively recent addition to the language surrounding in-building public safety communications involves FFPC code 1:11.10, which requires a minimum radio signal strength for both new and existing buildings, and requires that these systems comply with the requirements of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.  

While some Florida jurisdictions had already adopted this code, “it’s now statewide code,” said Karl Thompson, Chief Engineer of the Florida Division of the State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire Prevention, and member of the Safer Buildings Coalition.  He noted that a few jurisdictions in south Florida were implementing this before the FFPC started implementing it statewide, and that both Florida and other states like California are relatively progressive in code adoption.  “We’re disaster prone-states,” he said, “and recognize the importance of code language.”

florida in-building fire code

The Importance of the Florida In-Building Fire Code

When mandates regarding building requirements change, some stakeholders may initially feel unduly burdened by the new codes.  The mandate for the new Florida in-building fire code is not different. In regards to requiring a minimum wireless signal strength, “The language says ‘for new and existing buildings’,” said Thompson, “which has caused some concern among some of the building owners that they’re going to have to pay for these systems.”

“First and foremost of concern to building owners and real estate investment groups is cost,” said Chief Alan Perdue, retired director of Emergency Services in Guilford County, N.C. and executive director of the Safer Buildings Coalition.  “But to offset that concern is the liability for taking care of the public that occupies them.  And to take care of the public, it is imperative for public safety personnel to be able to communicate in the event of an emergency in that building.  Oftentimes people think that it has to be a large incident, or a large building, to be a problem.  But if you think about a mid-size residential building, EMS may be coming there on a frequent basis for medical emergencies; law enforcement for various types of events and the fire dept as well…the critical nature of being able to communicate is vital.”

The new Florida in-building fire code language brings existing buildings across Florida into the public safety wireless communication system conversation.  While it is an encouraging step forward, nothing is not set in stone. “It’s important that this legislation doesn’t change,” Perdue said.  To provide some relief for building owners, the Florida legislature has allowed for impact and effort of code compliance to be taken into consideration by the local fire official (Florida Statute 633.202).  In addition, a delay of several years in the implementation requirement was approved in light of the need by building owners to plan and budget (Florida Statute 633.208).

Continuing to advocate for and educate on the importance of in-building wireless communication systems is still paramount to the success of modern public safety operations.  “Communications between public safety members inside the building, and outside to command is critical to a successful operation,” said Perdue.  “The lack thereof can put members at risk from injury or possibly death.  The issue of people going to the wrong location creates a time lag for the people who we are there to serve.  The communications piece is vital to a successful outcome.”

For more information on the Florida in-building fire code, the FFPC is viewable online at the Division of State Fire Marshal website at under the “Fire Prevention” tab.

By Vania Cao – Safer Buildings Coalition Contributor

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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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How FirstNet Will Affect Public Safety


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

The First Responder Network Authority – FirstNet – was brought to life by an act of Congress in 2012 with the goal of building a nationwide wireless broadband network for as many as 13 million public safety personnel. Those behind the initiative foresee an interoperable communications network for firefighters, police officers and paramedics across the country, all benefiting from state-of-the-art technologies, location information, specialized devices and access to the right data at the right time.

It is a bold vision. But visions don’t fight fires, combat crime or provide emergency medical services, and so it should come as no surprise that the word is still trickling out to many of those on the front lines of public safety.

“There are a lot of benefits to FirstNet, and it’s hard to envision them until you can touch them,” said Harlin McEwen, chairman of the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee and retired police chief of Ithaca, N.Y. Among its many advantages, the network will be more secure and more reliable than commercial networks, and it will reach areas considered unprofitable by commercial carriers.

Public safety personnel will have priority access to the network, which means they will be able to transmit data, video, images and text even during catastrophes when the commercial networks tend to get over-loaded. Initially, the network will supplement public safety’s dedicated land mobile radio networks used for voice communications, but eventually it is expected to carry mission-critical voice calls as well.

FirstNet users will have dedicated access to new broadband capabilities while reaping the benefits of consumer-driven technologies – lower costs and rapid evolution – because the network will be based on the commercial standard for Long Term Evolution (LTE) service. It will enable emergency responders to exchange real-time data and video feeds from the site of a fire, medical emergency or crime in progress, improving their situational awareness. More accurate location-based services are also expected on the FirstNet network so that responders inside buildings can be tracked whether they are on the 18th floor of a high-rise or in a subway.

“When you think about what capability a teenager has with a smartphone, first responders don’t have even that same capability with their devices in buildings,” said Alan Purdue, retired director of Emergency Services in Guilford County, N.C. and executive director of the Safer Buildings Coalition. “Right now I can take my phone, hit the Uber app, request a ride and it knows where I’m at. The driver arrives and takes me to my destination. But if I’m a firefighter with a crew inside a building, I don’t have the capability to pinpoint where they are.”

FirstNet is an independent entity within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the Department of Commerce. Its board of directors includes the U.S. attorney general, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and 12 members appointed by the secretary of the Commerce Department. Congress authorized $7 billion in funding and 200 Mhz of spectrum for the network. The group released a request for proposal in January, and it hopes to award a 25-year contract to a commercial partner in November.

A wide range of public safety applications and enhanced devices are also part of the FirstNet plan. The devices need to be rugged, secure and convenient, and they must account for all the gear first responders wear and carry, including heavy gloves. What’s more, they need to be easy to administer.

The one thing nobody promised about the FirstNet vision is that it would be quick or easy to implement.

“This is a very complex and challenging project,” Chief McEwen said. “You have to convince people that what is happening will help them. That’s difficult to do when you’re talking about something that’s not in place. The people in public safety who have been intimately involved would tell you that FirstNet is taking on a very positive role, and it looks better every day.”

By Caron Carlson – Safer Buildings Coalition Contributor 

Learn more about joining the SBC by clicking here.  Also be sure follow us on our Facebook page, Twitter (@SaferBuildings), and connect with us on LinkedIn.


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