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How to Meet NFPA and IFC Public Safety Building Code

[fa icon="calendar"] October 30, 2017 / by C Enterprises

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If you’re a building owner, builder, or project manager, you know that most jurisdictions require International Fire Code (IFC) or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliance before you can obtain an occupancy permit. Find out the difference between the two sets of requirements and what you need to install a public safety distributed antenna system (DAS) that meets standards.

Understand Requirements

Each jurisdiction has its own public safety coverage requirements designed to protect first responders. When police, fire, or medical personnel respond to emergency situations and can’t use their radios, they cannot provide appropriate services. Stairwells, basements, large open spaces, elevators, and areas with thick walls can obstruct signals and are often where emergencies take place.

Some buildings have energy-efficiency updates that further complicate the issue. LEED-certified buildings have low-E glass that blocks UV light and cuts down on heat transfer, but it can also block signals needed for public safety.

Nearly every U.S. city and county has local ordinances that require buildings meet standards for first responder communication. Building owners bear the responsibility of making sure their systems meet code. Here are some of the organizations that supply standards adopted by most municipalities:

  • National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)
  • International Code Council (ICC)
  • International Fire Code (IFC)
  • International Building Code (IBC)
  • First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)

Since there are no federal standards, each city has different requirements, but most adopt IFC and NFPA codes. Check with local agencies to be sure you understand what is appropriate for your building.

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Overview of NFPA 72 and IFC

Here’s a summary of the most important standards:

  • Coverage – NFPA requires 99 percent wireless coverage in areas of “vital importance.” Your fire department can tell you where those areas are in your building. Other building areas must have at least 90 percent coverage.
  • Equipment – Both NFPA and IFC require that public safety networks be stored in NEMA-4 compliant enclosures.
  • Signal – NFPA and IFC both require a minimum signal strength of -95 dB.
  • Backup – Battery backup that lasts for at least 24 hours must be able to maintain your public safety communications if your building loses power. Equipment must also be protected by a two-hour fire rating.
  • Antennas – NFPA standards dictate antennas must have an isolation 15 dB above the amplifier gain.

After you install equipment and meet signal standards, there are additional requirements for testing. Normally, test administrators split each floor of your building into 20 or 40 sections in a grid pattern and systematically evaluate each section with a public safety radio. They will check both connectivity and signal strength to make sure they meet requirements. 

Public safety systems are subject to commissioning tests required of the building’s owner, acceptance tests by the authority issuing the occupancy permit, and subsequent annual tests. Certified technicians must complete most installations.

The standards for in-building public safety systems are complex and ever-changing. Building owners must stay up to date not only to meet NFPA standards but to ensure the best possible outcome if there’s ever an emergency. C Enterprises provides cabling options for public safety networks. For more information or to request a quote, contact us today.

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