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5 Revelations for Indoor Public-Safety Communications

By Mike Collado
October 15th, 2015

I had the privilege recently to join two of my favorite public-safety subject matter experts – Donny Jackson (editor at Urgent Communications) and Chief Alan Perdue (executive director at Safer Buildings Coalition) – to discuss trends for indoor public-safety communications during an hour-long webinar.

Specifically, five revelations (or lessons, observations, finding, epiphanies…) that have bubbled to the surface for me from the research and subsequent discussions around the eBook SOLiD published in partnership with Hutton Communications this summer: The Imperative.

The Imperative is an introduction to some of the key questions and challenges we frequently encounter within the market regarding fire and building code requirements for indoor public-safety communications; technology solutions; and funding and ownership for these in-building networks. Read more from our pre-APCO 2015 post here.

The title – The Imperative – was purposely chosen… We believe that it is imperative that both the general public and public-safety first responders are able to communicate indoors should there be an emergency. Meaning that the public can be notified and call for help, and that first responders can communicate with one another, with command and with building occupants.

Here are the 5 revelations… Be sure to check out the free webinar for more information and in-depth discussion. And please let us know what you think!

 

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Revelation #1: We tend to overlook the “public” part of public safety

Most people think about police, fire and EMS and special Land Mobile Radios (LMRs) when they think about public safety. What is overlooked is the critical role that the general public and their smartphones (and feature phones – thanks Michael Dube for pointing that out on the webinar) play in public safety. This is a key shift in paradigm: a call from the public to 911 initiates the response from first responders; notifications from first responders provide instructions to the public. As Chief Perdue says, “If you can’t call us, we can’t help you.” The new public-safety paradigm requires a holistic view that includes both the general public and traditional public-safety participants. (Read more about this topic in our summary post for APCO 2015.)

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Revelation #2: We’re applying traditional outside-in thinking to solve a new indoor market reality

The majority of cellular calls occur indoors. Similarly, the majority of emergencies occur indoors. So why is public-safety communications being addressed as a last-mile problem with an outside-in approach that relies upon the macro wireless network (both cellular and public safety if you agree with me on Revelation #1)? Given the facts, we should reverse field and instead view public-safety communications as a first-mile problem to be solved through an inside-out in-building wireless network strategy.

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Revelation #3: Fire and building codes are complex for myriad stakeholders

With two fire code organizations (International Code Council and National Fire Protection Association) that publish model codes in different years which take years to be adopted at the discretion of each individual jurisdiction, it’s complicated and complex for stakeholders to navigate requirements for indoor public-safety communications. At a minimum, the lack of uniformity hinders a repeatable process for achieving the mission of Chief Perdue’s organization of making buildings safer. Further, the stakeholders – including public safety, building owners, wireless operators and technology manufacturers – often do not have a seat at the table to influence the creation of the codes. (Learn how Safer Buildings Coalition is helping)

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Revelation #4: Building safety systems should be paid for by the building owner

Indoor public-safety communications (once again, both cellular and public safety if you agree with me on Revelation #1) are akin to fire sprinkler systems: part of a safety system funded by the building as part of a code requirement. Like the sprinklers, those upfront costs can be recovered downstream via revenue from tenants. Is it a financial burden? Yes. But a “safe building” and/or one that enables cellular coverage is an asset to attract tenants, increase property value and retain tenants (learn more at WiredScore). We look to creative business models such as sharing in certain network expenses, tax breaks, insurance incentives and Good Samaritan laws to help advance funding of these networks by the building owner.

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Revelation #5: Convergence of indoor commercial cellular and public safety doesn’t make sense until FirstNet

It’s enticing to explore a strategy of converging commercial cellular and public safety on the same in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) network. After all, isn’t that the premise behind FirstNet: leveraging the commercial cellular macro network assets to build a broadband public-safety network? Set aside reliability and resiliency requirements for mission critical public-safety communications for a moment… The key reason to keep them separate t0day is interference. Specifically, an in-building public-safety network requires 25% of the significantly denser antennae infrastructure that supports commercial cellular LTE service. But, when FirstNet gets rolled out, the network will also be LTE – which suggests that the required in-building commercial cellular and public-safety DAS infrastructure will similarly map and support a converged network strategy. At that time, reliability and resiliency as well as coverage at locations such as stairwells and underground parking coverage areas which are critical in public safety, will need to be addressed).

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