Buildings need to be a safe zone where everyone can communicate without worrying about dropped calls or dead zones. Tenets in apartment buildings and visitors shopping in stores need to make sure there receiving mass notifications. First Responders need to stay connected no matter where they are in the building. But how do we make sure there is uninterrupted communication within buildings?

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a presentation on FirstNet In-Building Solutions; A Collaboration between FirstNet and Safer Building Coalition hosted by FirstNet Director, Stephen Devine, and Director of the Safer Building Coalition, John Foley, during APCO 2022 Conference and Expo.

This presentation touched on topics about how FirstNet needs to work inside buildings all the time and its roadmap to implementing the network within all buildings. In this article, I’ll be discussing the key points of this presentation.

  • What is FirstNet
  • What is Safer Building Coalition
  • Why is There a Need for In-Building?
  • FirstNet Road Map: Coverage
  • How Will FirstNet Be Implemented in Buildings
  • Technical Requirements
  • How to Determine In-Building Needs
  • Problems

What is FirstNet

FirstNet is the First Responder Network Authority, an independent agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration. FirstNet is a dedicated network for emergency responders and the public safety community.

FirstNet was created after 9/11 where first responders and public safety agencies encountered problems with their communication system and struggled to communicate with each other and across departments. FirstNet is dedicated to providing a single nationwide network to allow all public safety agencies to communicate with each other.

What is Safer Building Coalition?

The Safer Buildings Coalition is a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating wireless dead zones in buildings though education, leadership, policies, and ideas. With over 6.2 million commercial buildings in the United States, first responders must be able to talk inside and communicate with each other while building occupants need to be able to call and text 911 from inside those buildings.

Why is There a Need for In-Building Solutions?

First Responders must have communication available to them wherever and whenever they need it most. This includes indoor, outdoor, and unique coverage capabilities. Public safety need communication coverage in areas where it may the network may be hard to reach. This can be inside commercial buildings, underground public transit stations, crowded sport areas, and more.

Devine mentions that public safety is not just LMR (land mobile radio) these days. More and more agencies are using FirstNet enabled LTE devices as their preferred communication tool. Actually, more than 450+ devices have FirstNet capabilities.

When implementing this network, FirstNet gets feedback directly from first responders. These first responders say they have inbuilding and data needs and that they want a reliable product that they can count on no matter the device.

Public safety prefers a fixed reliable wireless broadband coverage. They need transparency on where coverage exists.

FirstNet Road Map: Coverage

FirstNet Road Map is a foundation made up of six domains that will help FirstNet prioritize its programs, activities, and investment money around then. These six domains include,

  • The Core
  • Coverage
  • Situational Awareness
  • Voice Communications
  • Secure Information Exchange
  • User Experience

In-building falls under the coverage domain. The coverage domains vision is to make the FirstNet network available to public safety when and where they need it most. The need for in-building coverage gives constant coverage in areas that may be hard to reach such as inside commercial buildings, unground public transit, crowded sports arenas and more.

How Will FirstNet Be Implemented into Buildings

So how will FirstNet be implemented into buildings? And where does the safer building coalition help make this happen? Well, there are a few ways FirstNet is working to make buildings safer.

International Fire Code

Since 2009, International Fire Code and the National Fire Protection Association (FPA) require public safety communication coverage inside buildings. If they don’t have a reliable coverage the building owner is required to correct this. This can be done by updating relevant polices and encouraging cooperation from building developers and owners.

In the fire code, an antenna on the roof collects the signal from the outside brings it down to an amplifier and distributes it throughout the building. But FirstNet would rather use a base station. AT&T is working with the FirstNet program and members of the Safer Building Coalition to speed up the ability to bring base stations in and leverage the signal throughout.

Technical Requirements for In-Building

The three technical requirements, design, install, and test, will help building owners and industry experts understand how to implement base stations inside buildings. It’s the integrators responsibility to work with the current public safety design guidelines, the Fire Marshall, and frequency license holder to figure out these requirements. What bands do they need to operate on? Where is this signal coming from? These same requirements will apply with FirstNet Authority frequency holder.


All equipment should serve band 14 first. A frequency band reserved exclusively for emergency first responders. This is the most feature rich band today.

Next, building and population size will be used to determine the right solution. There are currently 4 sources for these solutions which include Nokia, CommScope, Coring and Ericsson. How they configure the right solution requires them to determine how many people are in the building that are having simultaneous conversations and how much area needs to be covered.

The last part in the design guidelines is transport and backhaul. There needs to be a hard connection from the base station back to the core network. The building owner is required for this backhaul.


Equipment must meet UL2524 proposed. A new listing by Underwriters Laboratories for in building two-way emergency radio communication system. The integrator must have the certifications to install a base station.


The integrator must be proficient in testing LTE systems to meet design requirements.

How to Determine In-Building Needs

In building needs will vary between jurisdictions and different buildings. In some cases, in building coverage can already exist. If this is the case, each jurisdiction needs to access their needs based on building size, construction and find different solutions that would work best for them.

We can’t wait for an emergency to happen to then start implementing FirstNet inside buildings.

Problems with this Technique

There are some problems that FirstNet is running into with this technique. Fire code official can check a building to see if there’s accurate public safety coverage in the building and require building owner to find a solution to solve the problem. But what fire code officials can’t do is give building owners permission to turn the system on.

These are FCC frequencies and only frequency license holder can give authorization to rebroadcast the license frequencies. For example, you can tell them to install a fire detector, but you can’t tell them to turn it on.

Another problem FirstNet has is not all equipment has the UL2524 listing found under the design guidelines. They need to work on finding and certifying equipment to comply with the UL2524 listing.

TAYLOR THOMAS is a Marketing Manager at First Source Wireless. With her experience in critical communications, she helped public safety professionals enhance their communication through the help of two-way radios and headsets.


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