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October 1,2003

TO: THE COMMITTEE ON FIRE


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AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

FROM: SKYSCRAPER SAFETYJ CAMPAIGN


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SUBJECT: FIREFIGHTER RADIOS

1. Problems with firefighter radios in New York City:


They are ineffective for transmitting signals in:
• High rise buildings
• Tunnels
• Subways
• There is no interconnectivity with police and emergency
medical service personnel
• They receive interference from other radio transmissions
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2. What is it about high rise buildings, tunnels and
subways that impair fire raqios?
• Concrete in the building construction
• Steel in the construction
• Distance or space in the building or tunnel

3. Problems of firefighter radios throughout the USA


• Same as in New York: radios do not work in high rise
buildings, tunnels, subways, no interconnectivity with police
and emergency medical services and interference from nearby
radio signals
• Some radios have single channels for dispatch and fire
firefighters. This single channel or frequency radio has
contributed to firefighter deaths in many areas, including
Newark, New Jersey
• Tent shelter material used by firefighters at wildfires can even
block radio signals
• Antennas being erected by cable companies interfere with
firefighter radio transmissions
• Fire alarm boxes are being removed and cell phones designated
as a replacement have proven inadequate during power failures
• Increased radio traffic messages are mixing in with signals
between fire, police and EMS and emergency operations
• Hackers can listen in on radio transmission signals

4. Some solutions for the New York City firefighter radio


problem are:
The McKinsey and Company report on evaluation of FDNY
preparedness recommended:
• A short term solution is a portable booster (repeater) radio
• A long term solution is a permanent booster (antennas) to be
installed in all high rise buildings as part of the infrastructure.
• A Change in NYC Building Code to require permanent booster
antennas installed in buildings, tunnels and subways. This code
change compliance if implemented, may take ten to fifteen
years. This too long to wait. It must be done immediately.

5. McKinsey recommended that the cost for FDNY radio


upgrades could be obtained by:
• NY City providing tax incentives to building owners
• NY City installing and maintaining an infrastructure &
antennas through Homeland Security grants.

6. There are no specifications for Fire Department radios. The


specifications for a firefighter radio transmission should be:
• In a high rise building - FD radios should function from lobby
to roof and from lobby to lowest sub basement.
• In a tunnel - FD radios must transmit the entire lengthfromone
end to the other.
• In a subway - FD radios should transmit the distance of at least
three station stops. At a minimum, a firefighter's signal sent at
34th Street & Perm Station should reach 23rd Street downtown;
and 42nd Street uptown.

7. How are the current temporary solutions in the Fire


Department working, such as the "post" radio and the "cross
band repeater" portable antenna?
• The post radio carried by FD Chiefs is too heavy. It is over 20
pounds. The Fire Chief already is weighed down by 50 pounds
of protective clothing & masks; a radio brings it to 70 pounds.
• The cross band repeater solution is ineffective due to its 50
percent failure rate, as a result of its complexity of operation
during a fire.
Note: These temporary solutions (post radio and cross band
repeater) relate to the Chiefs radios only, and not to the
firefighters' radios, so essentially, their communication capacity
remains unchanged.

8. How did emergency communications systems in New York City


work during the 2003 blackout? - Not very well.
• 911 failed
• Fire Dispatch Computer failed
• Cell phones failed
• Communications which worked best was the Fire Department
emergency alarm boxes. They are scheduled for total removal
by the City of New York in the near future.

9. There is a new radio technology used by the military,


however, it is several years away from commercial use:
• The military uses a radio based on internet protocol technology.
• The fire radios create the antenna (network), a type of umbrella
system over a building
• Firefighters with radios entering the umbrella network have
good communications
• Military radios have geo-positioning capabilities that work well
in structures
• Military radios have interconnectivity capability with other
radio systems
• They are also secure from hackers

10. Conclusion: The New York City firefighter cannot wait over a
decade for new radio technology. The permanent infrastructure
installation of antennas is the preferred long term solution of the
McKinsey report and it is the recommended solution of The
Skyscraper Safety Campaign.

Submitted by Sally Regenhard, Chairperson, Skyscraper Safety


Campaign, P.O. Box 70, Bronx, NY 10470 Tel: 718,671.7326