The men and women who use our public safety systems put fear aside and run toward the flames. We depend on these heroes to keep us safe, and that's why we do everything possible to ensure they can rely on us. Receiving a passing test score in the world of public safety is unlike passing any other test. In-building public safety systems have one purpose: mission-critical communications. If they don't work in an emergency, lives are at stake. Testing is not optional; it's mandated. There are approximately 30,000 fire departments in the United States. Although national codes, NFPA 1221 and IFC510, are the basis for their public safety system requirements, each Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) custom tailors the specifications to meet their particular locale's needs. As is the case in NYC, where the FDNY is the AHJ, they may enforce more stringent requirements.
There are several types of signal measurement tests conducted on emergency responder radio communications systems. Grid, Acceptance, Commissioning, and Annual testing is performed at different times during the project life cycle. These tests ensure adequate signal coverage throughout the building, including areas not typically prioritized for cellular coverage, like stairwells, escape routes, cellars, mechanical floors, and rooftops. To conduct a Grid Test, an FCC-licensed technician will use the building's floor plans and divide each floor into grids (the national codes and AHJ specify the number of grids and maximum grid size). Using a combination of walkie-talkies, a spectrum analyzer, and a scanning receiver, the technician will make notations of signal measurements on the plans. In some instances, like the ARC system in NYC, we must record each grid test's audio and submit these files to the FDNY for review and acceptance. At RF Solutions, we've created an app for field engineers to use when managing audio recording files during our grid testing. The files can sometimes number into the thousands for a single building; in one particular case, we reached 7900.
Signal measurement testing is just one of the types of testing we do on our public safety systems. Our proprietary Radio Command Series ARCS equipment undergoes extensive factory testing in an ISO-9000 certified facility. The Radio Amplification Unit (RAU) consists of 15 different sub-assemblies that have individual quality control checklists. Once our systems are installed, our project managers conduct visual inspections and walk-throughs of the building, looking for proper mounting, 2-hour fire-rated pathways, and correct installation. Our thorough and extensive testing procedure ensures that we meet the coverage required at the perimeter while minimizing the interference outside of the building, which could impede public safety operations.
If a public safety system isn't properly tested, a building owner cannot be assured their system will provide coverage in critical areas when a first responder requires it during an emergency. This may also hinder the acquisition and maintenance of occupancy permits. Mandatory yearly inspections can uncover degradation or impairment that is not yet severe enough to trigger system alarms. This could result from partial equipment failure, damage to antennas or cabling, or changes and renovations within the building. Proper testing takes time and costs money, but as Ben Franklin once said, "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."