How does one choose the right installer for an In-Building Public Safety Radio Project?

THE SAME PUBLIC SAFETY RADIO QUESTIONS KEEP COMING UP OVER and OVER AGAIN

Picking the right Installer for your In-Building Public Safety project can be a daunting challenge that can make or break your project and create delays in obtaining your Certificate of Occupancy. Planning and research into the background and experience of your choice can make the process much more productive and help you find the right partner.

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Some Considerations:

  1. There is much talk today about FirstNet. It is definitely coming and I believe will be a positive addition to overall first responder communications and visualization capabilities, but it is not here yet and there are still unanswered questions. However, the 800 MHz public safety networks that cover more than 3000 counties and municipalities in the US today are not going away. It should be further understood that FirstNet, at least in its first iteration, is not intended to be a substitute for those repeater networks as they are the primary, if not the only two way communications between the first responders themselves and their base of operations. The local codes apply only to those well-established networks.
  2. Be aware that most local codes do not allow for the Public Safety and the cellular enhancement systems to be the same electronics head-end. Sometimes you will be told that it will save money or be more efficient. It is certainly possible, but fire marshals and PS codes don’t allow for electronic co-mingling. The Public Safety system should be a separate system, and in the majority of the ones I have been involved in over the years, separating the two often times costs less not more.
  3. Although you have to ask the question in the right way, the the local fire marshals or Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) can usually point you towards local installer companies that are experienced, competent and reliable.  Generally speaking, the county people are friendly and helpful. A clean install means less work for everyone.
  4. Another area of concern is the quality of the outgoing RFP. The more detailed and accurate it is the better chance of getting bids that are not all over the map, which is a very common problem. If you need assistance hire an experienced consultant to make sure the content of the RFP is appropriate and will yield a good response.
  5. Lastly, you should ask the bidders if they are members of the Safer Building Coalition. The installer members are genuinely and keenly interested in Public Safety and are usually top tier companies.

It is always tempting to pick the lowest bidder, but choosing a systems integrator with recent experience, local code knowledge and one having good relations with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) should always override doing it on the cheap.

Here are five important questions to ask the bidders:

  • Question #1: The obvious first question would be about the experience of the bidder. How many installs have they done in the last 12 months? How large were the structures? In what jurisdictions and what customer references are available for those installs?

The response you are looking for: You should see a minimum of three projects in the last 12 months and at least one that is larger than your building and ideally one that is referenceable in your jurisdiction.

 Question #2: Does the bidder have iBwave (design software) certified engineers, how many and what level of certification?  Also what RF signal test equipment do they use?

The response you are looking for: At least one ‘level 1’ certified iBwave engineer will do. Level two or three would be better but not usually necessary for PS level design. Test equipment will vary, but it must be able to determine accurate outdoor and indoor signal strength and clearly determine if there will be signal interference of any kind that will affect the installation.

  • Question #3: How well do they know the local code?

The response you are looking for: Ask for any installer to show you a copy of the local code and brief you on its contents. You don’t have to become an expert, but the clarity and crispness of the answers will tell you a great deal.

 Question #4: Who is the AHJ for project and what is their relationship with the inspectors.  

 The response you are looking for: They should easily be able to give you names and numbers and last time they had contact with the AHJ and some sense of how good their relationship is. Also ask if you can call the inspectors in reference to their work.

 Question #5: Will the installer guarantee passing the acceptance test without change orders?

The response you are looking for: You are looking for an installer who will see the project through until you get acceptance from the AHJ. Change orders will be approved only under very extraordinary circumstances well beyond the installer’s control.

In most cases RF design for public safety systems is not overly challenging for truly qualified vendors. Having a good knowledge of the local code and having working relations with the AHJ inspectors is very important.

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