Public Safety Networks aren't just a legal requirement, they save lives. Learn the challenges, regulations, and best practices for designing public safety networks in one convenient place.
What are Public Safety Networks?
Public safety networks are specialized wireless communication systems used in the event of emergencies. They’re a necessity for communication between first responders, fire fighters, and emergency workers. And, perhaps most importantly, they’re a legal requirement in many countries around the world.
Natural disasters, fires, accidents and unlawful situations all fall under the umbrella of public safety hazards that can affect in-building communication. In emergencies such as these, having a working, optimized public safety network has the potential to save lives.
At present, there’s no centralized federal entity that regulates building codes for public safety network requirements. But there are several not-for-profit organizations setting a benchmark for municipalities to use as a guideline for designing public safety networks. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and International Fire Code (IFC) are two of the more influential of these entities and have in recent years become one standard for defining optimal public safety network deployments.
That said, with no official public safety guidelines, fragmentation and quality of these essential networks can vary greatly between countries, and even between buildings in the same city.
Why do I need to design a Public Safety Network?
In addition to providing safety and peace of mind to building occupants, public safety networks also have insurance and liability implications.
It’s a Necessity
Before a building owner can lease or sell their property, they require a “certificate of occupancy”. These permits are often only given if project stakeholders can prove their building has a functioning Public Safety Network.
Empowering First Responders
Public safety workers are increasingly being equipped with laptops, smart devices, and mobile video cameras to improve their ability to instantly communicate with central command, coworkers and other agencies. Surveillance cameras and sensors are also becoming important tools to extend the eyes and ears of public safety agencies to inaccessible spaces. This functionality is paramount to ensuring safety for patrons during an emergency.
How is designing a Public Safety Network different than a Cellular DAS?
There are a number of unique characteristics that make Public Safety Network design different than that of traditional cellular DAS networks.
In Cellular DAS design, high capacity and wide scale access is one of the key measures of a successful commercial network. In Public Safety design, the network must remain exclusive and limited to first responders and other safety officials. That means they most often remain inaccessible to the public to minimize the chances of network congestion in the event of an emergency.
Variance in Rules, Regulations, and Experience
We’ve already discussed how there is not yet a global standard for Public Safety Network design. Every public safety contractor has their own methods and practices when designing these networks, and as a result network quality can vary greatly from location to location.
To complicate matters further, buildings can have a wide range of topologies, nuances, and quirks that can make it hard to replicate designs for future projects. Indoor Cellular DAS design adheres to strict guidelines and metrics to define its success. It can be much trickier to replicate past Public Safety designs without the same standards adopted in the Cellular DAS industry.
In order to get a certificate of occupancy (which allows a building to be leased or sold), building owners must comply with public safety requirements and pay for systems to be installed. In-building cellular systems are usually installed and paid for by carriers based on customer demand and ROI. Many building owners outsource Public Safety design to contractors, and the cost and availability of this service can sap budgets that could be used elsewhere in the project.
Public safety frequencies used in the U.S. range from 30 MHz to 150 MHz, 450 MHz and 800 MHz – all relatively low-frequency bands compared to cellular DAS. Responders also use land mobile radio (LMR) handsets which transmit between 3 to 5 watts of power – far more than typical cellular handsets.
What are the rules and principles of designing a Public Safety Network?
The Canadian federal government published a national public safety broadband progress report and identified nine key principles to consider when designing public safety networks:
Interoperability: Public safety networks must deliver equitable service to all members of the public safety community, anytime and from anywhere it is accessible.
Network Access Always: Public safety network users (such as first responders) must always have immediate and uninterrupted access to the network, as needed.
Coverage: Public safety networks must have equivalent coverage as that of commercial broadband networks. They should also be established in underserved, rural, and remote areas.
Resiliency / Robustness: Public safety networks must be able to withstand damage from natural disasters and other public crises.
Mission Critical Service Delivery: Public safety networks must be able to deliver network-hosted mission critical services to public safety users.
Security: Public safety networks must meet the trust requirements and security mandates of organizations exchanging data through it.
Sustainability: Public safety networks must meet the needs of first generation stakeholders without compromising its ability to meet the demands of future collaborators.
Affordability: Public safety network design and deployment should be affordable to the entire community of users expecting to use this service.
Use of Spectrum: Public safety networks should be efficiently designed so as to effectively use the entire available spectrum.
As mentioned above, in-building public safety networks typically adhere to guidelines outlined by the NFPA and IFC. Here are some of the most important protocols as defined by the two organizations:
Equipment Enclosures: The NFPA and IFC specify that all equipment supporting the public safety network must be housed in NEMA-4 compliant enclosures.
Signal Strength: The NFPA and IFC stipulate a minimum signal strength of -95 dBm to meet acceptable signal strength standards.
Battery Backup: Equipment that supports the public safety system must be able to function for 24 hours on a backup battery.
Fire Ratings: Cables connecting public safety electronic equipment must meet a two-hour fire rating.
Hardware and Coverage Requirements
Unlike traditional Cellular DAS designs, public safety networks require access in parts of buildings that are infrequently used. Elevators, fire escapes, fire pump rooms, and emergency exits all require public safety network access, as these are the areas that first responders communicate from in the event of a crisis.
Public safety networks also require specialized equipment such as heat resistant cables and backup generators, that aren’t as readily available as traditional cellular DAS infrastructure. This means longer lead times and potential delays in network planning and deployment.
How does iBwave help design public safety networks?
As the leaders in in-building wireless design, we’ve had a lot of experience finding the best ways to plan and deploy public safety networks that adhere to global standards. We’re in regular communication with the Safer Buildings Coalition and system integrators to ensure network designs meet the requirements of these organizations.
iBwave has built-in tools to meet the standards of an optimal Public Safety Network – from initial RF design to final acceptance testing. If a building requires public safety network access, you can be assured that you can design your network to comply with NFPA and IFC standards.
Identify Critical Areas
iBwave allows specific rooms in a floor plan to be designated as “critical.” This makes it easier for stakeholders to identify areas (i.e. emergency exit, control room, equipment room, etc.) of the design that will require special attention.
The software allows you to display compliance standards on output maps, so network design can be regularly monitored to ensure it meets these guidelines.
There’s also an option to set custom compliance requirements should your building or municipality require specialized design. The compliance report function will generate an easy to read document outlining whether your network design is compliant with the specifications you provide. This is an invaluable report for authorities with jurisdiction to approve or reject network designs based on public safety compliance.
Stay Up-To-Date on Components and Software
iBwave’s equipment database is constantly growing and includes many components designed specifically for public safety networks. And with regular software updates and third-party integration, iBwave software is also well-equipped to handle future toolkits that might be mandated for public safety.