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What Electrical Contractors Need to Know about Bi-Directional Amplifier Systems

By Jon Hines

Emergency responders rely extensively on their radios to communicate inside buildings.

However, in today’s modern urban landscape, dense surroundings and construction can interfere with radio signals and can render responder’s radios ineffective. This is extremely problematic in an emergency situation. That’s why installing a Bi-Directional Amplifier (BDA) system, often called a signal booster, is critical for commercial buildings today.

A BDA or signal booster system provides reliable two-way radio and public safety signal coverage inside buildings, tunnels, and structures. Because BDA systems are so critical to emergency responders, it’s not just something that’s nice to have for the safety of your building occupants. It’s actually a requirement that commercial buildings are equipped with this functionality.

That’s why it is important that Electrical Contractors (ECs) and business owners, in both urban and rural areas, understand the BDA requirements for their facility and the need for compliance for both safety and increased enforcement.

To illustrate the importance of BDA systems, the following to graphics showcase the difference between a building that has proper radio coverage through a BDA system versus one that does not.

Building with Insufficient Public Radio Coverage – Non-compliant to Code

Building with Insufficient Public Radio Coverage - Non-compliant to Code

Building with sufficient Public Radio Coverage – Code compliant

Building with sufficient Public Radio Coverage - Code compliant

Understanding Bi-Directional Amplifier (BDA) requirements

International Fire Code (IFC) 2012 Section 510 requires all new or existing buildings to have approved Emergency Responder Radio Coverage unless the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) determines otherwise.

An existing building may have proper coverage without needing a BDA system. But to be sure, your building needs to be tested to ensure it is in compliance with the fire codes. An experienced fire and life safety integrator, such as ACT, can test your building and determine whether your building requires a signal booster.

If the test determines the building needs a BDA system, ACT installs, tests and certifies the system for proper coverage. The AHJ requires this certification every five years, or as directed. Each local AHJ determines to what extent to enforce the code and the associated penalties, but it is possible that noncompliance could prevent a new building from receiving an occupancy permit.

When to test and install BDA systems

Although ECs can test and install a building’s BDA system at any stage, we recommend that ECs include BDA systems in the planning stages of construction. Installing BDA systems can add a considerable cost and time to a new construction project. That’s why it should be considered on the front end of a construction project instead of waiting to the project completion to find that it is required.

Currently, BDA system requirements are less enforced in existing buildings. However, we anticipate an increase in the enforcement of this as these systems become more commonplace to ensure proper radio coverage for emergency responders. Some states, such as Florida, have adopted these rules for both new and existing buildings. We expect to see more of this as BDA systems become more commonplace.

Which BDA system is best?

Although BDA systems are separate from the fire alarm system, they are monitored by the fire alarm system. Honeywell manufactures BDA systems that are compatible with the fire alarm systems we install, making integration simple and easy.

If a building has an existing fire alarm, Honeywell’s generic BDA system models are also a reliable fit. All BDA systems we install are highly reliable, with two power supplies for redundancy, quality components, and the latest radio frequency semiconductors.

While never anticipated, emergencies do happen. To ensure emergency responders have effective, reliable communication, a compliant BDA system is necessary.

ACT takes the safety of your building and its occupants seriously – we would be happy to help you make sure your building meets BDA system requirements. Whether you just need testing or want our help to select and install a BDA system, click here to contact us today to start the conversation.

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