First responders such as fire, EMS, and police depend on reliable two-way radio communication when lives and property are at risk. That’s not always an easy task in many buildings. In-building radio signals are often absorbed or blocked by structures that are larger, underground, or constructed of concrete or metal. Additionally, building features designed to create more sustainable facilities like Low-E glass windows can impact the signal from public safety radio systems. When this occurs, weak or non-existent signals result in radio communication “dead zones” within commercial structures, jeopardizing coordination among and the safety of first responders in emergencies.

Most fire codes now mandate the installation of Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES) for both new and existing commercial buildings. These advanced systems boost the signal inside the building, providing clear, two-way radio communication without dead spots.

“The challenge is that first responders operate on many different frequencies, which vary significantly from city to city. The ERCES equipment must be designed to amplify only the specific assigned channels,” says Trevor Mathews, wireless division manager at Cosco Fire Protection, a provider of business fire suppression and life safety systems for more than 60 years. 

Mathews adds that this design involves tuning the ERCES to prevent signal interference with other frequencies and avoid running afoul of the FCC, which can levy significant fines when violations occur. Companies often must install the entire system before the certificate of occupancy is issued. To meet tight deadlines, installers rely on ERCES OEMs to quickly deliver the system components.

State-of-the-art ERCES can arrive “custom-tuned” by the OEM to the specifically required UHF and/or VHF channel. The contractor can then further optimize the device onsite to the actual band frequencies. The approach facilitates meeting all codes and requirements, reducing overall installation costs and difficulties.


The ERCES was first introduced in the 2009 International Building Code. The latest codes require all buildings to have an approved level of emergency communication coverage.

ERCES systems function by connecting through an over-the-air link the installer optimizes to the public safety radio communications tower network, using a rooftop directional antenna. This antenna is then connected via coaxial cable to a bi-directional amplifier (BDA), which increases the signal level to provide sufficient coverage within the building, based on life safety standards. The BDA is connected to a distributed antenna system (DAS), a network of relatively small antennas installed throughout the building that serve as repeaters to improve the signal coverage in any isolated areas.

In larger buildings of 350,000 square feet or more, multiple amplifiers may be required to drive an adequate signal level across the system. Besides the building’s square footage, other criteria can also affect the number of amplifiers required, such as the building design, type of construction materials used, and the density of construction. 


Recently, Cosco Fire Protection was tasked with installing an ERCES alongside a comprehensive fire and life safety system at a large distribution center in Washington. To meet municipal requirements, Cosco Fire needed to install an ERCES tuned to VHF 150-170 MHz for the fire department and UHF 450-512 for police. The building was due to receive its certificate of occupancy in several weeks, so installation needed to be completed quickly. To streamline the process, Cosco Fire selected the Fiplex by Honeywell BDA and fiber DAS system, from a leading manufacturer of commercial building fire and life safety systems.

The compliant and certified system was developed to reliably provide superior RF amplification and coverage without noise, enhancing signal strength inside buildings, tunnels, and other structures. The system is specifically designed to meet NFPA and IBC/IFC code compliance with the UL2524 Second Edition listing.

According to Mathews, one vital aspect that sets the ERCES apart is the ability of the OEM to “tune” the device to the channels used before shipping. The contractor can then further optimize the BDA’s RF tuning onsite to the precise frequency required with channel selective, software programmable or adjustable bandwidths. This eliminates the issue of wideband transmission in highly congested RF environments, which can otherwise cause outside interference and potentially lead to FCC fines.

Mathews points out another aspect that distinguishes Fiplex BDAs from other digital signal boosters: the availability of a dual-band option for dedicated UHF or VHF models.

“Combining the UHF and VHF amplifiers simplifies installation because you have one panel instead of two. It also reduces the necessary wall space, the power requirements, and potential points of failure. Annual testing is also easier,” says Mathews.

With conventional ERCES systems, fire and life safety companies must often source third-party components to supplement the OEM’s package. Where the wait time to receive equipment from OEMs extended across several months, Fiplex was delivered within a few weeks.

“With other suppliers, it could take 8-14 weeks to receive an amplifier,” explains Mathews. “Now we can get a custom tuned amplifier and install it with the DAS in 5-6 weeks. That is a game changer for contractors, particularly when there is a tight window for installation.” 


For building developers, architects, or engineering firms wondering if an ERCES will be required in a new or existing building, it’s best to consult with a fire protection/life safety company that can conduct an RF survey of the space.

Results are then submitted to the authority with jurisdiction to determine if an ERCES system is required or if a waiver is appropriate.

 “If the building fails an RF survey at any point in time, whether completed construction is at 50%, 80% or 100%, the ERCES system will have to be installed, so testing earlier is better before installation becomes more difficult,” says Mathews.

There can be additional challenges when conducting RF testing in structures like warehouses. An empty warehouse may not require an ERCES, but the signal strength can change dramatically in areas of the facility after racking and other equipment is installed, and merchandise is added. If a system is installed once a warehouse is already operational, the fire and life safety company must work around the existing infrastructure and any personnel.

“Installers may need to use lifts to reach the ceiling, fix cable or place antennas, which is difficult to do in a fully operational structure,” comments Mathews.


To avoid project delays and technical challenges, commercial building developers, architects, and engineering firms can benefit from an expert contractor’s familiarity with the ERCES requirements.  

About the Author:

Megan McGovern is the director of external communications at Honeywell Building Technologies. She can be reached at

Modern Contractor Solutions, August 2023
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