At stadiums across the country, first responders including police, fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) depend on reliable two-way radio communication when lives and property are at risk. In-building radio signals are often blocked or attenuated by structures that are large and primarily constructed of metal and concrete and with below grade areas. When this occurs, weak or obstructed signals result in radio communication “dead zones” that can jeopardize emergency coordination among first responders.
“Stadiums often have one or two levels below grade, which is a major problem for emergency communication. Pre-cast walls, pipes, rebar or structural steel can also disrupt communication, which can be prevalent in areas such as stairwells or tunnels. Signal failure in any critical area will require installing an Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES),” says Deron Bone, president of RF DAS Systems, Inc., a national provider of emergency responder radio coverage systems for more than 30 years.
MANDATED BY FIRE CODE
ERCES are mandated by fire code in most places for the construction of new stadiums and some existing stadiums. These advanced systems boost the signal within all areas of the stadium, providing clear, two-way radio communication without dead spots.
State-of-the-art ERCES are available that amplify and accommodate all the necessary emergency signals required, even in the largest stadiums. The approach facilitates meeting all codes while reducing overall installation cost and complexity—helping to expedite tight project deadlines.
A WORLD-CLASS STADIUM
Recently, RF DAS Systems installed an ERCES at a new West Coast stadium with more than 30,000 seat capacity, that hosts both professional and collegiate sports as well as large festivals, concerts, and events.
According to Bone, when RF DAS Systems initially conducted a pre-test on the stadium, there was no signal in much of the first floor and the entire lower level, so installing additional antennas was required in the ERCES system throughout these areas.
“Even though a radio transmission tower is close, there were a number of weak points in coverage that needed to be accommodated,” says Bone.
ERCES were first introduced in the 2009 International Building Code. The latest version requires all buildings to have an approved level of emergency communication coverage for first responders.
ERCES systems function by connecting through an over-the-air link that 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 a stadium based on life safety standards. The BDA is connected to a distributed antenna system (DAS), a network of relatively small antennas installed throughout the structure that serve as repeaters to improve the signal coverage in any isolated areas.
In stadiums, multiple amplifiers are usually required to drive an adequate signal level across the system.
Fire, police, and EMS frequencies vary across the country. To increase safety and compliance, the specific radio frequency used must be customized to the stadium configuration, the frequencies used by emergency services specifically in the area, and the geographic topography (nearby hills, mountains, etc.). The design usually 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.
To streamline the process, Bone selected the Fiplex by Honeywell BDA and fiber DAS system. The compliant, FCC-certified system was developed to reliably provide superior RF amplification and coverage without noise, enhancing two-way radio signal strength inside buildings including stadiums. The system is specifically designed to meet NFPA and IBC/IFC code compliance with the UL 2524 Second Edition listing.
One vital aspect that sets the Fiplex ERCES apart is that Fiplex can “tune” the device to the channels used before shipping. The installer can further optimize the BDA’s RF tuning onsite to achieve the precise frequency required with channel selective, software programmable or adjustable bandwidths.
Bone 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.
To meet tight deadlines, companies rely on OEMs to quickly deliver ERCES system components.
For the stadium project, RF DAS Systems relayed the specific fire, police, EMS and public service frequencies to Fiplex, which programmed the RF signal band. “With a BDA software upgrade, I can change the amplifier from a half-watt to a two-watt BDA. That flexibility is key because it allows easy adjustment, so I don’t need to purchase and install another amplifier if a structure is denser than I thought,” says Bone.
Additionally, the compact size of the BDA eases installation. The inspection of the system went off without a hitch and the fire marshal signed off on the ERCES.
For Bone, installing a reliable system that works as expected is the most important aspect of any project. “When there’s an incident at a stadium, like an injured player who is taken off the field by ambulance, it is a communications frenzy with RF signals flying everywhere—which is tough on an ERCES system, but if you are installing a quality system, then everything is okay,” says Bone.
To avoid delays and technical challenges, stadium developers, architects, and engineering firms can benefit from an expert contractor’s familiarity with ERCES requirements. With quick shipment of an advanced ERCES tuned by the manufacturer to the required RF channel, a skilled contractor can install and further optimize the device to the specific local band frequencies. The approach expedites the project and compliance, enhancing safety during an emergency.
For More Information:
For more information, contact Megan McGovern, director of external communications at Honeywell Building Technologies: firstname.lastname@example.org or 404.216.6186.
Modern Contractor Solutions, February 2023
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