Guest column

When it comes to emergency preparation, Houston buildings need to focus on communication and compliance, says this expert

Houston buildings — old and new — need to think about their emergency communication compliance. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Like most of us, I remember where I was when I learned that terrorists had crashed hijacked planes into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

In addition to the high cost of civilian life, 412 firefighters, EMTs and police officers lost their lives — many the result of not receiving an order to evacuate. Many just did not get the order because the existing first responder radio system and private cellular services were too jammed with calls as a result of the emergency and as a result of damage to the buildings. We also saw the same lack of decent communications with law enforcement in the Mandalay Bay mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The lessons of the Twin Towers were not lost on the city of Houston and Harris County which require all new buildings to have a specially designed emergency responder radio system, or ERRS, installed which passes a rigorous testing procedure. Buildings over three stories, without a basement or over 50,000 square feet are not exempt but do not have to submit plans to the city. If the system is not designed properly, The city and county will not issue a certificate of occupancy. Repeated violations of an order to install an ERRS can result not only in fines and city tickets, but also in a referral to the district attorney's office to consider whether a felony level crime has occurred. It is not a trivial building code provision obviously.

Unfortunately, this ordinance is either not known or is not known well yet. I serve as the chairman of the Houston Tower Commission, am a former Houston council member and chairman of the Regulatory Affairs Committee, an attorney for almost 28 years, a law professor in legislation, and the owner of a professional design/build company involved in wireless electrical engineering and installation.

While I can't issue a formal advisory opinion on behalf of the city, on an industry level this is what businesses and commercial builders need to know:

  • Every building is different, and the systems are not off the shelf or cheap.
  • The publicly broadcast FirstNet signal, if being received throughout your building, does not exempt a building owner from compliance.
  • Compliance is not entirely based on the equipment installed, but primarily on results. Each floor of a covered building is divided in to 20 grids and each grid is tested to see if the signal strength is 95 dBm. If more than two consecutive grids fail, then the floor is divided into 40 grids and if four consecutive grids fail, the system must be redesigned.
  • The systems must be designed by an engineer utilizing iBwave software that should be submitted with your permit package. Again, these are not off the shelf products.
  • Because the systems are designed to work when a building is on fire, most cabling must be done with a fire resistant conduit, fiber or even fireproof antennas in certain jurisdictions.
  • Existing buildings are not required by code to install an ERRS unless they undergo a major renovation. However, a building owner can install one of the systems voluntarily.

It is the nature of the evolving world of wireless technology that our "smart buildings" of the future will be required to install technology of all sorts that allows for modern communications. Certain cities are already requiring new buildings to also install private wireless systems that allow you to use your private cell phone throughout your building. The correlation is clearly with sprinkler systems, the requirement for which is found in the same section of the fire code which requires an ERRS. Sprinkler systems were invented in 1872 but were not required by code until the 1960s. Amazingly, there are many cities that have not modernized their codes to require an ERRS in new buildings, including Dallas.

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Rob Todd is the founder of Amplified Solutions and chair of the Tower Permit Commission for the city of Houston.

From enlightening talks to networking opportunities, here's where you need to be in April. Getty Images

Happy Q2, everyone. With 2019 already a quarter of the way through, it's a bit overwhelming to prioritize what networking and thought talks to attend. We've rounded up a list of over 10 (and growing) events for you to consider adding to your calendar.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

April 4 — FIRMSPACE Houston Grand Opening Celebration

A national high-end workspace brand has opened its latest location in Houston. Check out the space and network with potential coworkers.

Details: The event is from 7 to 10 pm on Thursday, April 4, at FIRMSPACE Houston (2200 Post Oak Boulevard). Learn more.

April 4 — Accelerator Info Session and Panel

Join the Social Enterprise Alliance for an info session on BBVA Momentum's accelerator program followed by a panel discussion led by Grace Rodriguez, CEO of Impact Hub Houston.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Thursday, April 4, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin, suite 2440). Learn more.

April 4-6 — Rice Business Plan Competition

This weekend, 42 teams will be competing for over $1.5 million in awards at the 19th annual Rice Business Plan Competition. Learn more about the awards and teams here.

Details: The three-day challenge takes place in a few different buildings on Rice University Campus. Learn more.

April 5 — ChIPs Texas' Houston Innovation Ecosystem

Gina Luna of Houston Exponential and Tom Luby of the TMC Innovation Institute will take the stage for a panel moderated by Payal Patel of Station Houston. It's the first ChIPs event in Houston. ChIPs is a nonprofit organization that advances and connects women in technology, law, and policy.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Friday, April 5, at TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd, Suite X). Learn more.

April 10 — MassChallenge Texas' Houston Launch Party

In case you missed it, MassChallenge Texas has a new Houston program and it's officially launching this month. Network with the international program, potential applicants, and other members of the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday, April 10, at Four Seasons Houston (1300 Lamar St.). Learn more.

April 11 — 2019 Future of Leadership Luncheon

The annual event honors leadership and celebrates the important role of philanthropy in the Houston community. Tickets start at $250 for the luncheon that features a conversation between Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and Laura Arnold, co-chair of Arnold Ventures, on the future of philanthropy.

Details: The event is from noon to 1:30 pm on Thursday, April 11, at the Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar Street). Learn more here.

April 11 — Startup Pains: What I Wish I Knew

This monthly series hosted by the University of Houston lets you learn from someone else's mistakes and successes. This month's speaker is Jason Eriksen, Ph.D.UH associate professor of pharmacy, and founder of Alzeca Biosciences and Teomics LLC.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Thursday, April 11, at the UH Technology Bridge (Innovation Center, building 4, floor 2, 5000 Gulf Fwy). Learn more here.Learn more here.

April 11 — B2B Startup Pitch Party

Cannon Ventures is hosting another night of pitches. This event is focused on all things B2B and will feature some B2B startups looking for early stage funding in Houston.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 9 pm on Thursday, April 11, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

April 12 — The Agile Shift Conference

Join industry professionals to network and talk the unification of Agile and DevOps to build and deliver better teams and software.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 5 pm on Friday, April 12, at the Hyatt Regency Houston (1200 Louisiana St.). Learn more.

April 18 — Lemonade Day at Station Houston

Join Station Houston for what is likely going to be the cutest pitch competition you'll ever see. Ten teams made up of future entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas for a lemonade stand.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 18, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, suite 2440). Learn more.

April 18 — Rice Alumni | Entrepreneurs & Innovators, Houston Launch

A Rice University organization has a new name, and they are ready to celebrate it. Meet the new Rice Alumni | Entrepreneurs & Innovators network, or RA|EI, and discuss what you want out of the organization.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 18, at Pitch 25 (2120 Walker Street). Learn more.

April 23 — Houston Female Founder Roundtable: How to Get Ahead in Entrepreneurship with Alice

A panel of entrepreneurial women will share their stories, challenges, successes, and tips.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 1 pm on Tuesday, April 23, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Rd). Learn more.

April 25 — EO Talks Houston

Think TED Talks but from Houston entrepreneurs. The goal is to share success stories and inspire other entrepreneurs in town.

Details: The event is from 7:30 to 10:30 am on Thursday, April 25, at Houston Baptist University, Linda & Archie Dunham Theater (7502 Fondren Road). Learn more.

April 25 — 7th Annual City of Houston Investor Conference

The City of Houston is gathering professionals to talk money for a full day of presentations by local government CFOs and an update on the region's economy.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 5 pm on Thursday, April 25, at Hilton Americas-Houston (1600 Lamar Street). Learn more.

April 25 — Enterprise XR: How AR/VR is Preparing Modern Workers

Immersive technology is shifting the paradigm of corporate training, and you and your company need to learn about it. The event has a keynote speaker and networking before and after.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 8 pm on Thursday, April 25, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin St., suite 2440). Learn more.

April 26 — Data Science and You: Ethics in Data Science

Visiting professor Lawrence Hunter, director of the Computational Bioscience Program and of the Center for Computational Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, talks advances in data science and what you need to know.

Details: The event is from 3 to 5 pm on Friday, April 26, at the University of Houston Student Center (4455 University Drive).Learn more here.

April 26 — SPE Pitch Perfect

Join the Society of Professional Engineers' GCS Innovate! Committee for an event that will help you perfect your business plan.

Details: The event is from 9 am to 2 pm on Friday, April 26, at the Newpark Drilling Fluids (21920 Merchants Way). Learn more here.