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 http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/ 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

FirstNet

PHOTO COURTESY: New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (NYS DHSES, psbb.ny.gov)

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 


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Live Call | Crafting The Code – The Future of In-Building Public Safety Wireless Communications

2016 is well underway and there are many exciting developments happening with our coalition. One of the most important efforts we’re engaged in right now involves the code proposals we created together with various stakeholders (including our SBC members) last Fall. These are codes that will impact your organization in the years ahead.

ICC Group B Committee Action Hearings Update

Recently our SBC Executive Director, Chief Alan Perdue participated in the ICC Group B CommitteeChief Perdue Safer Buildings Coalition IFC In Buildings Public Safety Wireless Communications Action Hearings to advocate not only for the proposals we created together last Fall, but also similar proposals in alignment with our core mission as well.

According to Chief Perdue:

“The committee has been extremely tough disapproving many of the 400 plus proposals that have come before them so far. We did what many at the hearings said was a fine job with our proposals.”

The breakdown for SBC proposals was as follows:

Approved as submitted: 10
Approved as modified: 2
Disapproved: 5

Next Steps:

We will be hosting a call this Thursday at 11am Pacific (2pm Eastern) in which Chief Perdue will be covering the full details of the results of these hearings including how these proposals may affect your organization in the near future.

This call will cover a few key topics:

  • How the in-building public safety wireless code adoption process works.
  • How different interpretations of the code can affect your organization.
  • What in-building public safety wireless codes could look like in the near future.

To participate in the call with Chief Perdue, click the registration link below:

SBC_Webinar_Title

 

Space is limited. Be sure to sign up today.

Best regards,

~The Safer Buildings Coalition


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Chief Perdue Participates At ICC Fire Code Action Committee Meetings

Safer Buildings Coalition is set to be well represented at the upcoming 2016 International Code Council’s (ICC) Fire Code Action Committee (FCAC) meetings. Chief Alan Perdue, Executive Director of the Safer Buildings Coalition, will be attending the FCAC meetings taking place on March 31 – April 1, 2016 in Chicago, IL. The ICC Code Action Committees are code discipline specific committees whose purposes are to enhance the technical requirements of the International Codes (I-Codes).

The FCAC roster includes ICC members from the International Associations of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) Fire & Life Safety Section, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and other fire service representatives, building officials and industry-code experts.

The Importance of 2016 Fire Code Action Committee

Fire Code Action Committee The purpose of these meeting are for the Fire Code Action Committee to review all code change proposals submitted for consideration in the code development process for the 2018 edition of the International Fire Code.  The SBC and other interested parties have submitted several request for changes related to International Fire Code Section 510 that contains requirements related to public safety in-building communications.

Chief Perdue added, “It is imperative that the SBC be represented at these meetings to brief the committee on the importance of and help explain the reasoning behind the proposed changes that have been submitted. Additionally, the national fire service organizations utilize this opportunity to gather additional information in order to develop a position in support of or opposition to these proposed code changes.” These code changes will be presented during the April Fire Code Hearings in Louisville, KY.

These code changes dictate the future of public safety wireless communication. Consider joining the Safer Buildings Coalition to ensure that your voice is heard.


 

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