Kamloops eyes new bylaw as high-rise construction hampers radio signals

Tackling radio disruption

A report from the City of Kamloops indicates modern high-rise construction is making first responder radio communications difficult — if not impossible in some cases — with staff proposing the creation of a new bylaw to address the issue.

The community services committee is set to discuss the matter at its Thursday meeting.

According to a report authored for the committee by Ryan Cail, Kamloops Fire Rescue deputy chief, an increase in high-rise structures — and more modern construction techniques — is hampering emergency radio communications within buildings themselves and to groups outside, like incident command and dispatch.

The report said at times, radio communication — which is essential for safe and efficient operations during an emergency event — is “being rendered completely ineffective.”

“This is due to the inability for radio waves to penetrate into and out of the structures themselves as well as between specific levels, depending on the materials used for construction,” the report said.

The report said certain construction techniques used by builders to improve energy efficiency are causing the loss of radio signals, including the metallic content of cladding, doors and high-efficiency windows.

“Communications are further complicated by limitations on the current radio infrastructure, Kamloops’ challenging topography, and increased signal loss as these taller structures block the signal paths,” the report said.

According to the report, first responders are experiencing “significant communications issues” in the new Phil and Jennie Gaglardi Tower at Royal Inland Hospital.

“In order for responders inside the building to communicate with incident command, a responder must stand outside to reach the KFR repeater and use one radio to communicate with the incident command and use another radio on an independent channel to communicate with interior crews,” the report said.

“If emergent transmission or general operational communications on tactics are required, communication cannot be achieved between floors or back to dispatch.”

The council committee is asked to consider directing city staff to develop a public safety radio in-building application systems bylaw.

The bylaw would require public safety radio in-building amplification systems to be installed when new buildings are constructed or when upgrades or renovations are made.

These systems include bidirectional amplifiers, which cost between $4,000 and $25,000, donor antennas which are pointed at the nearest radio tower site, and a distributed antenna system, which taps the signal from the amplifier to areas where signal transmission is impaired.

The committee members will discuss the matter on Thursday afternoon and will vote to authorize city staff to start work on the bylaw.

If staff is given the green light to begin this work, the bylaw will be brought to a future council meeting for consideration.

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