ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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NIST Testing of RF Safety Equipment Helps to Strengthen Emergency Alert System Standards

New York, May 30, 2013

The U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC)’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently carried out a series of new tests of wireless emergency safety equipment in New York City. The tests – conducted by NIST’s Radio-Frequency Fields Group as part of an ongoing project focused on the development of metrics and laboratory tests for electronic safety devices using two-way radio-frequency (RF) transmission – took place in a multilevel subway station and in the Empire State Building. The testing was financially supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and assisted by the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).

The NIST team carried out tests of four separate RF-based personal alert safety systems (RF-PASS), which are often used by firefighters and other emergency personnel. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) member and audited designator the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently incorporated NIST’s initial RF-PASS test methods into a 2013 revision of NFPA 1982-2013, Standard on Personal Alert Safety Systems. The standard provides minimum performance criteria and test methods for PASS used by firefighters, and the 2013 version is the first to cover devices using RF technology. The NFPA adoption represents a significant advance in safety, as these NIST methods will now be implemented by testing laboratories as part of the NFPA certification process for RF-PASS devices.

In the recent testing, NIST examined whether a RF-enabled beacon issuing a firefighter-down signal could be transmitted to a base station located outside of a given building or subway station, whether the base station could send a response to the beacon, and how much distance and physical barriers reduced signal strength. Researchers found that signals were often not effectively transmitted from inside subway stations to the base station unless a repeater was placed inside the station; multiple repeaters might be needed in multilevel subways stations.

In addition, the tests inside the Empire State Building determined that only one of the four systems tested there were able to successfully carry out communications between beacons placed on the building’s upper floors and a base station on the street nearby without the use of repeaters. NIST's next round of test methods will include tests for reliable voice radio and emergency beacon operations in higher path-loss environments.

To read the full report, click here.

 Homeland Defense and Security Standardization Collaborative