Emergency Responder Radio Coverage

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Emergency Radio CommunicationsRadio communication are essential for emergency operations and the safety of our community’s emergency responders. Radio communications between emergency responders and dispatch personnel can be negatively impacted by building size, underground levels, construction features and building contents, which may prevent radio communications from entering or leaving a building.  Minimum performance requirements for emergency responder radio coverage were established with the adoption of the 2010 Oregon Fire Code after a lack of adequate radio communications was determined to be a contributing factor in the death of 343 firefighters on September 11, 2001.

 

Authority

2014 Oregon Fire Code (OFC) §510 and 2014 Oregon Structural Specialty Code §403, 907 & 915.

Definitions

Emergency Responder Radio Coverage (ERRC):  Adequate radio signal coverage within buildings, determined through signal strength testing, for clear communication between emergency responders (firefighters, paramedics and police) and the 911 dispatch center.

FCC License Holder: An agency licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate a radio service for public safety purposes.  The FCC license holder for the City of Hillsboro is Washington County Consolidated Communication Agency (WCCCA). 

Mobile Emergency Responder Radio Coverage (MERRC): A radio repeater system installed on fire apparatus and police vehicles used to increase radio coverage in buildings with poor signal strength for communication between emergency responders and the 911 dispatch center. 

Where Required 

Emergency responder radio coverage must be provided in the following buildings.  In some cases, a building will have adequate coverage, demonstrated through the signal strength testing requirements in OFC Section 510.5.3, without the installation of a system.  (OFC 510.1.1)

  • Any building with one or more basement or below grade building levels.
  • Any underground building.
  • Any building with more than five stories in height.
  • Any building 50,000 square feet in size or larger. 

Timing of Signal Strength Testing

The Oregon Fire Code does not identify when signal strength testing must be completed, but since coverage levels must be maintained, it is safest to do testing near full completion of the building after all exterior cladding, roofing, glazing and interior partitions are in place.  If testing is done too early, an owner runs the risk of having a building that passes the early test, but does not comply after it is fully completed.  The fire official shall approve the timing of the testing in conjunction with the WCCCA.  (OFC 510.1)

Permit

A building permit must be obtained through Hillsboro Building Department and is required for the installation or modification of an emergency responder radio coverage system.  (OFC 510.3)

Additionally, an agreement for signal booster operation is required between the building owner and Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA).  Contact WCCCA at (503) 690-4911 for more information.  (OFC 510.5.1)

Technical Criteria Document

Contact WCCCA at (503) 629-4911 for technical criteria, including frequencies required, location of radio sites, effective radiated power of radio sites and maximum propagation delay.  Due to the sensitive nature of this information, Hillsboro Fire Department will not release this information without the consent of WCCCA.  

Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal - Technical Advisory

A technical advisory was published by the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal November 13, 2017 to help provide consistent and concise application of Oregon Fire Code Section 510. The Technical Advisory clarifies:

  • Specific buildings required to provide emergency responder radio coverage.
  • Application in existing buildings.
  • Minimum performance levels for each floor.
  • Minimum signal strength. 
  • Signal booster and battery system signals.

System Survivability

Annual Inspection, Testing & Maintenance

Inspection, testing and maintenance of the emergency responder radio coverage system shall be completed annually in accordance with the Oregon Fire Code and the provisions of the WCCCA agreement for signal booster operation. Inspection and testing reports shall be submitted by the contractor through The Compliance Engine.  (OFC 510.6.1)

Mobile Emergency Responder Radio Coverage (MERRC) Program - Alternative to Emergency Responder Radio Coverage System Installation

The MERRC Program is an alternative to a fixed in-building emergency responder radio coverage system.  This program gives building owners the opportunity to participate in a cost-effective, no maintenance option to make a one-time contribution to a fund for the purchase, installation and maintenance of mobile emergency radio equipment designed to increase coverage in buildings with poor radio strength in lieu of a fixed in-building radio coverage system.  This opportunity is approved on a case-by-case basis and will not be available for all building uses.  (OFC 104.8, 104.9, 510.1 and Hillsboro Resolution No. 2580)

Fixed in-building systems can be complicated and expensive. Equipment must be maintained annually, and replaced or repaired as needed. The FCC License Holder (WCCCA) must approve these systems, and both the building owner and WCCCA can be held liable under federal penalty for any signal interference caused by the system. Therefore, WCCCA requires a comprehensive legal agreement, specifies certain equipment and requires annual maintenance. In contrast, the purchase, installation and maintenance of a MERRC system is the responsibility of the City of Hillsboro.

MERRC systems are a viable alternative to in-building systems, with some important differences. In most cases, an in-building system offers somewhat increased and better dispersed coverage, and works well even with a single fire apparatus response. However, under fire or collapse conditions, fixed systems can easily be compromised. Also, they only have a 24-hour battery life, which limits functionality in extended power outages and large scale emergencies. While each has its advantages and disadvantages, both are viable methods for providing emergency radio coverage.

The fund contribution is based on the total square footage of the building area. The total savings seen depends on the building design and radio coverage needs, but many scenarios would net a 60% to 80% cost savings.

Building permit applicants will need to request the MERRC alternative prior to final plan review approval using the MERRC Application. If approved, fees shall be paid at the time of permit issuance.

Contact Hillsboro Fire Department for more information on the MERRC Program at (503) 681-6166.


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