By Del Williams
At stadiums across the country, first responders including police, fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) depend on reliable two-way radio communication when lives and property are at risk. In-building radio signals are often blocked or attenuated by structures that are large and primarily constructed of metal and concrete and with below grade areas. When this occurs, weak or obstructed signals result in radio communication “dead zones” that can jeopardize emergency coordination among first responders.
Stadiums bring together thousands of spectators and participants for games, concerts, and other gatherings, making real-time radio coordination among police, fire, and EMS services essential. This is not only necessary for routine traffic, crowd control, and medical services but also to facilitate response to the unexpected. Incidents can range from transporting an injured player to the hospital to responding immediately to a fire or other emergency on the premise. When lives are on the line, a quick, coordinated response can help deescalate a situation before it intensifies.
“Stadiums often have one or two levels below grade, which is a major problem for emergency communication. Pre-cast walls, pipes, rebar or structural steel can also disrupt communication, which can be prevalent in areas such as stairwells or tunnels. Signal failure in any critical area will require installing an Emergency Responder Communication Enhancement Systems (ERCES),” says Deron Bone, president of RF DAS Systems, Inc., a national provider of emergency responder radio coverage systems for more than 30 years.
ERCES are mandated by fire code in most places for the construction of new stadiums and some existing stadiums. These advanced systems boost the signal within all areas of the stadium, providing clear, two-way radio communication without dead spots.
“Basically, all stadiums from high school to college to pro need an ERCES since there can be communication dead spots throughout. Many do not have these systems, so testing is essential to support safety and compliance,” adds Bone.
State-of-the-art ERCES are available that amplify and accommodate all the necessary emergency signals required, even in the largest stadiums. The approach facilitates meeting all codes while reducing overall installation cost and complexity — helping to expedite tight project deadlines.
A World-Class Stadium
Recently, RF DAS Systems installed an ERCES at a new West Coast stadium with more than 30,000 seat capacity, that hosts both professional and collegiate sports as well as large festivals, concerts, and events.
According to Bone, when RF DAS Systems initially conducted a pre-test on the stadium, there was no signal in much of the first floor and the entire lower level, so installing additional antennas was required in the ERCES system throughout these areas.
“Even though a radio transmission tower is close, there were a number of weak points in coverage that needed to be accommodated,” explains Bone.
ERCES were first introduced in the 2009 International Building Code. The latest version requires all buildings to have an approved level of emergency communication coverage for first responders.
ERCES systems function by connecting through an over-the-air link that the installer optimizes to the public safety radio communications tower network using a rooftop directional antenna. This antenna is then connected via coaxial cable to a bi-directional amplifier (BDA), which increases the signal level to provide sufficient coverage within a stadium based on life safety standards. The BDA is connected to a distributed antenna system (DAS), a network of relatively small antennas installed throughout the structure that serve as repeaters to improve the signal coverage in any isolated areas.
In stadiums, multiple amplifiers are usually required to drive an adequate signal level across the system.