HD2 - Reliable Public Safety Radio Communications for Emergency Personnel
During the 2003 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP)—with assistance from the Department of Emergency Management and the Department of Housing and Community Development—was requested in House Joint Resolution 588 (HJ 588) to study the feasibility of adopting requirements within the Commonwealth that will ensure buildings are constructed and equipped to permit effective and reliable public safety radio communications for emergency personnel operating within them. (The full text of HJ 588 is included in this report as Appendix I.)
Resulting from this legislation, the VDFP formed the HJ 588 Task Force including participants from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD); the State Fire Marshal’s Office (within DHCD); the Virginia Department of Emergency Management; the Department of General Services; the Virginia Department of Fire Programs; the Virginia Association of Counties; stakeholder organizations representing builders/owners of retail and commercial office buildings, apartments, and condominiums; telecommunications consultants and industry representatives; local fire, rescue and law enforcement personnel; and local building officials. (A complete list of participants is found in Appendix II.)
Goals for the study included: broad stakeholder participation and input using an open process; use of a multi-agency project team; timely completion without sacrificing quality; identifying partnership opportunities for providing the Commonwealth with substantive guidance on technology/policy alternatives; and results useable for, but not constrained by, House Bill 2529 (HB 2529) directing the:
“Board of Housing and Community Development to promulgate regulations as part of the Building Code requiring the installation in new commercial, industrial and multi-family buildings of emergency communications equipment for emergency service personnel to facilitate effective communications between emergency public safety personnel involved in emergency situations.” (The full text of HB 2529 is included as Appendix III of this report.)
The HJ 588 Task Force identified three principal areas affecting the feasibility of adopting requirements within the Commonwealth to ensure buildings are constructed and equipped to permit emergency public safety personnel to utilize effective and reliable radio communications while they are within buildings.
These three focus areas include: 1) policy, 2) implementation, and 3) technology.
1. Policy – The public policy issues associated with requiring in-building public safety radio communications solutions are complex and multi-faceted, but not insurmountable. Local governments across the United States have adopted ordinances requiring the installation of in-building public safety radio communications solutions since 1991. However, Virginia would be the first state to implement such a requirement statewide.
2. Implementation – In Virginia, the implementation instrument for adopting such a requirement is the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) development and change process. Given the relationship between the 2003 General Assembly’s direction in HJ 588 and HB 2529, the Task Force spent substantial time discussing implementation issues that will be further explored in the USBC development process. In addition, DHCD and the State Fire Marshal’s Office held meetings (outside the HJ 588 study) with Task Force participants to draft sample code language for emergency communications equipment in new buildings—this draft language is included in this report as Appendix IV.
3. Technology – The technology behind public safety radio communications in the built environment is inherently complex and a comprehensive treatment is beyond the scope of this study. Therefore, the Task Force focused on studying the feasibility of potential technological solutions for addressing the challenge of providing effective and reliable public safety radio communications in buildings. A variety of alternatives was explored with the conclusion that no single technology will apply to every jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. However, a range of technology solutions is available with applicability to almost any situation in Virginia.