If you’re a general contractor involved with a new construction project in North Georgia, you’ll need to know this newest industry buzzword—ERRC, or emergency responder radio coverage.
ERRC has been known by several names, including:
- First Responder Radio System
- Emergency Responder Distributed Antenna System (DAS)
- EMT DAS
- Fire DAS
- Bi-directional Amplifier (BAS)
- Emergency Two-way Radio Communications System
- IFC 510
The legislation was added to the national fire codes years ago. However, only recently have we begun to see enforcement in certain areas in the United States. As fire departments upgrade aging radio systems, more municipalities are adopting and enforcing the code. The metro Atlanta area is a good example of how quickly ERRC enforcement can spread as neighboring fire departments upgrade their systems.
Builders and contractors should familiarize themselves with ERRC now, or risk being denied a certificate of occupancy.
What Is ERRC?
An ERRC system is a repeater or enhancement system that takes radio signal present outside of a building and produces it inside.
In life-threatening emergencies, firefighters and first responders need a radio link back to other personnel or their center office in order to communicate in real time. ERRC ensures emergency responders can communicate from inside of a building during a crisis.
After the events of 9/11, the International Fire Code updated their requirements to include ERRC when inadequate radio communication was determined to be a contributing factor in the death of 343 firefighters.
Due to the rise in green building technologies, such as tinted, low-E windows, metal constructions, and concrete buildings with additional insulation, it is increasingly difficult for radio signals to reach inside of a building.
A good rule of thumb is that if your cellphone doesn’t work in a building, there is a decent chance you will have ERRC signal issues as well. However, good cellphone signal does not mean that you’re off the hook.
Who Is Required to Comply?
According to code, every building is required to comply with ERRC. If your local AHJ (typically, the fire marshal) enforces ERRC, you’ll need to pass an RSSI reading which measures the raw level of signal in your building.
Typically, the inspection divides the building into grids. Each grid will be tested for signal, plus any area where a firefighter would likely be in the event of an emergency known as “critical areas.”
Critical areas cannot fail the test, such as stairwells, elevator lobbies, electrical rooms, and the room where your fire control panel lives. These areas can be challenging when trying to pass an RSSI reading, as they tend to be buried down in the basement or located in a stairwell in the middle of the building, surrounded by concrete.
Which Metro Atlanta Areas Are Enforcing ERRC?
We decided to reach out to local AHJs of an area to see how ERRC was being enforced. We settled on an area that’s no stranger to new construction—metro Atlanta. Here’s what we found:
Out of the 30 AHJs in the metro Atlanta area, Cherokee, Cobb, and Dekalb counties all responded that they currently enforce the rules governing ERRC, while Gwinnett and Douglas county have plans to begin enforcement in the next year or two.
Alpharetta, Atlanta, Canton, Marietta, Roswell, and Peachtree City all currently enforce ERRC.
Woodstock, Lawrenceville, Douglasville, and Cartersville responded that they have plans to begin enforcing the rule in the next year or two.
What Are Your Next Steps?
If you’re involved in a new construction project in one of the areas enforcing ERRC, here’s what you need to know. Whoever installs your ERRC systems has to be licensed per the FCC. They need to have a GROL, or general radiotelegraph operator’s license. Be sure to find a qualified contractor who can complete the job right the first time. If installed improperly, ERRC systems can be more expensive to take down than the cost of the original installation.
Step 1: Find a reputable ERRC contractor and send them the building plans. They’ll need to do a pre-design for the system based off of modeling. This will tell them where to place antennas, and more.
Step 2: Make sure your ERRC contractor takes the design to your local AHJ for approval. Once approved, the installation can begin.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Power Supply – According to code, power must be supplied to the device via a dedicated circuit with a breaker lock. Most systems take standard 120-volt circuits, and most will plug into the wall. However, we’re starting to see more and more AHJs who want them hardwired to reduce the risk of failure.
- Integration Between BDA and the Alarm Panel – If your ERRC contractor is different from the company who installed your fire and life safety alarms, you’ll need to do some extra work. ERRC systems are critical to life safety, so if the antenna cable gets cut, or if the batteries start to deplete, they need to be able to set the emergency alarms off. Using the same ERRC contractor as your Life and Safety Alarm provider could save you future headaches.
- Pathways – ERRC cabling is not the easiest thing to work with, and many times it requires a pathway between floors or out to the roof. Most low-voltage contractors won’t want to drill a hole in the roof for penetration, so you’ll likely need the roofing contractor to come back out and put those holes in.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that your ERRC installer has been trained on the particular brand of system they plan to use.