ERRCS/Public Safety DAS – Annual Maintenance & Inspection Requirements
As ERRCS / Public Safety DAS enforcement has become more prolific, property owners must comply with the provisions of NFPA, IFC, and local jurisdictional code. One greatly overlooked section of the code is the requirement for annual inspection and certification.
Many properties are out of compliance and it is just a matter of time that this trend will cause problems for both the Macro system and emergency responders who rely on these systems. New technology has made these BDA’s more efficient, however, these systems need to be managed properly. Having said this the maintenance of these systems is largely ignored. I was at an AHJ meeting that was re-banding their system and the Fire Marshall asked “ how many of you have maintenance and annual inspection contracts in place with your customers?”. No one in the group of 40 integrators raised their hand. “Why is this?” he said. From the back, a seasoned integrator said, “because you have not enforced this section of the code and my clients will not enter into a contract with us because they don’t feel it is required.” Since then the AHJ has sent letters to all of the building owners with a BDA system that mandates compliance for this inspection annually.
These mandates create a lot of confusion and questions. Why is this required? Who is responsible for this inspection? Is this regulation onerous? Who can do the inspection? What is the cost? Let’s drill down:
- Why is this required? – The passives; antennas, couplers, cable, etc are unlikely to fail as they are passive, and have no active elements. The active elements; BDA’s and Battery Backups, antenna monitoring systems, do require maintenance. AHJ’s routinely change equipment or antennas that affect signal strength, migrate frequencies and channels that impact these systems. New BDA’s in the area can change the dynamics of the noise floor, as well as other interference metrics. Battery Backup units are fairly robust but may need battery maintenance on occasion. I recently experienced a situation where the jurisdiction’s radio shop solicited our help to pinpoint interference in a city that was experience intermittent interference. We were able to track down the offending property and diagnose the problem. The jurisdiction replaced a donor antenna at a macro site, with a newer dipole antenna and the signal was much hotter. The property was close by and the BDA was configured to accommodate a signal at -70 dBm donor signal, but the new antenna was much stronger, emitting -40 dBm at the donor, slamming the front end of the BDA, creating a stronger signal at the distribution antenna on the top floor. The property’s donor antenna now did not have the proper isolation and attenuation, creating oscillation, debilitating interference phenomena. This would have been picked up on an annual inspection.
- Is this regulation onerous? Absolutely not! These BDA systems are very reliable however if one perimeter changes these systems can cause interference and hobble a municipality system and impair the ability of first responders to communicate.
- Who is responsible for the inspection? The burden falls upon the building owner/management company. In some cases of new construction, owners know nothing about these systems, as they were installed by an integrator hired by the GC of the project. Some owners are not even aware of these systems and do not have a relationship with the integrator who installed it. It is important that the integrator inform the building owner of the requirements.
- Who can do the inspection? This depends on the jurisdiction in which the BDA was installed in. Generally, the test can be conducted by any firm or individual who is FCC licensed and has sophisticated testing equipment, and can conduct a signal strength grid test, interference testing, and a health checkup on the system. Some jurisdictions, like the city of Los Angeles, require an inspector who is certified under Regulation 4. This is a certification designed for Fire Alarm companies regarding alarm and sprinkler inspections, and they have shoehorned ERRCS systems into this classification. Every jurisdiction has its own augmentation to the code and has different levels of requirements and enforcement.
- How much does this cost? The cost for an annual inspection can be anywhere from $ 3,000 to $15,000, depending on the size of the property and the sophistication of the system installed. Our firm offers several options to our customers, with offerings for maintenance & monitoring with various levels of SLA’s, to one-off annual inspections and grid tests.
In summation, this requirement will become more prevalent as enforcement increases, and it is best practice. Our goal as a national integrator is to provide ubiquitous coverage for firefighters and first responders and not only keep them safe but assist their heroic efforts to keep us safe.
Will Washburn, is the CEO of Combined Operations for Digitechx Wireless Inc., a national provider of ERRCS Systems and Cellular iDAS solutions.
For inquiries regarding annual inspections:
Digitechx Wireless offers solutions for annual testing, maintenance, and monitoring for your property for systems installed by us or another integrator. For a free consultation, please call toll free at (800) 939-8849.