While major carriers and tower companies fill gaps in coverage and deploy 5G technology in underserved areas, the need to ensure safety practices are in place is an ever-increasing priority.
Deployments are focused around populated, downtown areas with high volumes of motor vehicle traffic. First responders and utility workers who are dispatched to an emergency to complete a rescue or to restore the scene, face health risks of hazardous RF emissions. Local populations of the general public could also unknowingly be exposed if a structure is damaged and the antennas are not oriented correctly. The need for a RF or antenna power interrupt device is a long overdue essential safety improvement. A requirement for a safety interlock device should be included in Master Lease Agreements (MLA’s), local municipalities Right of Way (ROW) Agreements, or joint use licenses to fulfill this need.
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the most significant risks to the small cells or DAS nodes. Busy street corners, strip malls, campuses and venues populated with antenna fixtures are at risk of being stuck by a distracted driver in high volume motor vehicle traffic. When our heroes rush to the scene of an accident where an extrication with emergency medical attention needs occurs, there are many scene safety issues they need to be aware of.
Most lack RF Safety Training, nor have an understanding of different antenna arrays hidden in ordinary light standards or on poles. If one of these structures was struck, broken, laying on the ground, and commercial power was not interrupted, the first responders would be exposed to Radio Frequency (RF) emissions greater than FCC guidelines. These could exceed safe ranges for the duration of the response putting the victim, the responders, or bystanders in additional harm’s way.
In order for the primary latency of traditional cellular service to succeed, 5G delivery needs to overcome three challenges of the service to get the speeds required for the promise of carrier data needs:
1. Active antennas using a narrower beam path;
2. Higher frequencies with greater bandwidth to deliver denser data packets; and
3. Better coverage through more points of access.
These antenna coverage areas need to be tightly spaced. Municipalities are under extreme scrutiny from constituents who demand service reliability and require unlimited data streams, while the carriers are pressured from investors’ and Board of Director’s insistence on steady economic growth. With these expectations, some municipalities have built their small cell architecture to promote tourism and industry to lure savvy technophiles.
The FCC is responsible for setting health standards for radio frequency emissions. These guidelines are adequate and protect workers and the general population when radio, the associated equipment, and antennas are placed on structures that provide the safest distance to human contact related to the wattage and directional RF source.
The expository RF guideline followed for a specific antenna placed in these populated areas does not account for the emission device laying on the ground due to a catastrophic failure of the structure. With recent events and political unrest across the globe, demonstrations or the upheaval during civil unrest could topple cellular structures without disruption to commercial power. We depend on this signal for communication, social media posts, witness to events, or casual video post. Damage to the structure could become a health hazard, unknowingly affecting dozens of people. The unrestricted RF exposure would affect numerous fragile health systems of those nearby in the crowds.
Properly trained utility or emergency responders should be able to confirm structures are online and transmitting to prevent exposure to an unguarded and active antenna array hidden in the ever-growing product lines of camouflaged or decorative shrouds. Critical training would require those first on the scene to test for stray voltage, locate the correct power shut-off device, and power down the equipment plus have the training and knowledge to ensure RF emission has stopped from the antenna array. As stated previously, many of these public servants are not armed with an RF detector, as it may be outside the scope of work or unsafe to proceed without training. Vital training is at the forefront of helping first responders understand the dangers of RF exposure, but training could create an undue burden on the municipality, and a strain to already dwindling training budgets.
PerfectVision’s patented safety interlock device will disrupt commercial power and prevent RF emission from transmitting to an array when the structure is compromised or fails due to an incident or weather event. The small device is easily installed on new or existing structures where small cell or DAS equipment is deployed. The Guardian First Responder Safety Trip (FRST) is the first device available and ready for commercial use. It protects an organization’s vital resources while maintaining critical infrastructure, limiting liability in the event a structure is damaged or the antenna(s) are not in their normal working position and commercial power is not lost. Preventing harmful RF emission from injuring unsuspecting emergency response teams or the general public should be the primary objective when establishing small cell networks in these highly populated areas while maintaining FCC guidelines for exposure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Kerstetter, CUSP is the National Solutions Engineer at PerfectVision. He served as a HAZMAT Group Supervisor, Safety Officer and HAZMAT Specialist, as well as a former volunteer NYS EMT, and Rescue Diver. He has over 25 years of safety experience in the telecommunications industry and holds two United States Patents for safety products. He is the current Chair of the NATE (The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association) Small Cell and DAS Committee, and a member of their Military Member Committee. George has published several articles on the topic of safety and how it relates to the industry. He developed the course material and produced a line of safety videos for the Verizon Wireless Small Cell training program.