By, Tom Doyle

The installation of Emergency Responder Radio Communication Systems (ERRCS) is mandated by many cities around the country and are effectively approaching the 2nd decade of their prevalence. It was the 2009 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC) that included new requirements for in-building ERRCS. Since that time both the IFC and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have updated their codes, and these updates have been digested and implemented by various cities around the country.

As we enter 2020 and the 2nd decade of ERRCS, the chasm between theory and practice varies enormously by jurisdiction. What follows are lessons from a significant number of proposals, discussion, and implementation of ERRCS projects around the country.

  • The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) continues to be the arbiter of code and the one resource every owner or integrator needs to know. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit like “Where’s Waldo” – finding the AHJ for a specific city can be time consuming. But it is critical to find this person and discuss exactly what the requirements are for an ERRCS for the property in question.
  • Every AHJ is different. Let me repeat that: every AHJ is different. Some are sticklers to code, some seem to want to enforce their own code, and some are amenable to working with owners to ensure code enforcement doesn’t provide an undue cost on owners.
  • What code? You may find the AHJ but the code he/she follows may not be written down or it may be a simply cut-and-paste from a national code. Getting clear on which code is required and whether there is anything written down is important.
  • ERRCS is not Wi-Fi. We’re often asked to provide an ERRCS implementation quote for a building that’s a hole in the ground. Unlike Wi-Fi, where you can determine ahead of time what equipment needs to be installed and the quantity and location of antennas, ERRCS requires a site survey. Until this site survey is done, there is no possibility to determine exactly what needs to be installed and where. There can be educated guesses based on building materials, location and radio transmit site location – but they are just that, guesses. We priced out a Parking Garage in Sacramento for $65,000 when it was a hole in the ground, but subsequent testing showed that no system was required. Great news for the owner, not so great for us the integrator.
  • Like every business, ERRCS is attracting integrators who install ancillary systems like Fire Alarm Panels. Since most ERRCS require a fire-alarm panel interconnect for monitoring, you’d think there’d be good cost savings to have the same company handle both tasks. This is a true to a point. The expertise that is usually required involves radio frequency. Most jurisdictions require someone with an FCC General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) to handle testing and implementation. The expertise required to sufficiently ensure an ERRCS plays well with the existing macro radio network or networks is not trivial. Moreover, most OEMs require some level of certification in the product line integrators work with OEM selection. There are a number of vendors in the business who manufacture ERRCS equipment. There are also a number of integrators. Choosing an integrator who understands the local code is as important as the equipment being deployed, perhaps more. The owner simply needs a system that will be code compliant and allow him to secure a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) and open the building on time.
  • In terms of integrators, owners should select those working to minimize his cost and meet the code requirements, not those looking to maximize their own revenue. Caveat emptor.

ERRCS continues to be a critical component to public safety. Unfortunately, horrific events will continue to happen indoors, where First Responder radios need to function. It’s only a matter of time that cities will require some form of ERRCS for all buildings, not just new structures. The code is evolving and perhaps the increased demand will help drive down costs. In the meantime, AHJs need to continue to balance technical requirements with these costs and the public needs to continually be educated on the necessity of these types of systems.