Integrated Systems (Video Included)

Part 2 of Walkie Choices for Local Authorities

As part of our ongoing series of blog and video series “’Walkie’ Choices for Local Authorities” TowerIQ is pleased to present the following overview of Two-Way Radio Communications Enhancement System operational architectures. Isolated systems provided emergency responders with dedicated radio enhancement isolated to the building. Integrated systems enhance the typical coverage and operations an emergency responder would have outside the building. Both system types have significant benefits and costs, and we hope to help you understand the different choices available for your responders and provide the necessary information to help you make the best choice.


Integrated Operations

As with “Isolated Systems,” “Integrated Systems” is a blunt description of system functionality. Rather than a building being a silo, with its own dedicated source of RF logic and signal, the Integrated System enhances the signal already provided by your Two-Way Radio infrastructure. Such a system enables the same radio channel(s) utilized at street level to be received seamlessly inside the structure, no channel change required, no interruption in service. A Police Officer, Fire Fighter, and Emergency Medical Technician can maintain constant communication with their dispatcher as they walk into the building from the street.

To provide the continuous coverage an Integrated System provides, the following equipment is required:

  • Donor Signal Source – The antenna location(s) that currently provide Two-Way Radio coverage to your emergency response personnel.

  • Donor Antenna – Typically installed on the roof of the structure, the donor antenna is the building’s line of communication to the Donor Signal Source.

  • Bi-Directional Amplifier – The signal booster that receives the RF signal and logic from the Donor Antenna, amplifies it and drives the Two-Way Radio Communications Enhancement System.

  • Cabling and Antenna Plant – A series of coaxial cables, RF power dividers and antennas to installed to fire alarm standards to distribute signal throughout the building.

  • Fire Alarm System Integration – For both power and monitoring of the Two-Way Radio Communications Enhancement System.

Typical Sequence of Operations

Integrated systems are always on. They are constantly re-transmitting any signal they have received from inside the building to the Donor Signal Source. They constantly retransmit any signal they have received from the Donor Signal Source to the inside of the building. No activation required. With a properly engineered cabling and antenna plant, the transition from street to building should be seamless for your team.

Cost and Benefit Analysis of Isolated Operations

For the great functionality that Integrated Systems provide, operational, technological, and economic costs are incurred.


Integrated Communications

In-building incidents can be very dynamic, growing in both the type of response required and scale of the locations. An incident that begins on the 12th floor of one building might move to the roof of another building and require more direct communications between agencies, commanders, on-site responders, and continuous communications between locations. Integrated systems provide seamless communications between those locations, and through existing dispatch infrastructure.


Contagion Effect

To date, at least two major east coast cities have experienced complete multi-day system communications outages due to the failure of a building’s integrated systems. This resulted in dispatch and incident response being managed by public cellular networks. When a Bi-Directional Amplifier fails, it can fail catastrophically. It might constantly transmit noise into public safety Two-Way Radio networks, thereby making them useless. In large municipalities, a law of numbers begins to apply, as more buildings are installed with integrated systems, there is a increased likelihood one will fail.

Cheaper Installation Costs

Avoiding some technical caveats, a Two-Way Radio channel can only carry a single voice transmission in range of the transmitter. Bi-Directional Amplifiers extend the range of that transmitter, increasing the range, but not the capacity of the Two-Way Radio channel. The transmission from a responder at an incident on the west side will be re-transmitted to a responder at an east side incident.

Single Point of Responsibility

When a failure does occur, who is responsible? Of course, the bulk of responsibility is easy to assign, but integrated systems are susceptible to failures induced by third parties. Who is responsible when a building loses signal when it is caused by a dense signal blocking building built next door? What if the municipality moves its main transmission site? What if the new transmission site is great for most situations, but terrible for a single building? First Responder coverage is mandated by law, but now the routine business of the municipality can have different financial effects on different buildings.

TowerIQ's Recommendation

If your community is expected to have multiple in-structure incidents at any given time, we highly recommend the isolated system for your local Fire Fighters. Commonly referred to “fireground” channels, these channels parallel the operations of yesterday’s firefighter phones, enabling the incident commander to communicate to the emergency response personnel operating in the structure and take command of an incident revolving around that structure.

TowerIQ does not recommend that Police and Emergency Medical Technicians rely upon isolated systems. Police and EMTs are more likely to face “transitory” incidents, an incident that spans multiple structures throughout the service area covered by their wide area dispatch systems. However, the Integrated System type poses its own set of risks with high severity, requiring specific health monitoring requirements must be enforced.