December 8, 2022

A communications safety-net for high-rise living

In this week’s blog Tom Kuklo, Global Product Manager Connected Cities, Radio Frequency Systems looks at the need for reliable communications infrastructure in high rise buildings. With millions of people across the globe living and working in buildings above 75ft it is vital to ensure continuous connectivity, especially in the event of an emergency.

Tom Kuklo, Global Product Manager Connected Cities

Although there are more regulations than ever to keep those occupying high-rise buildings, either as their home or place of work, safe, it is absolutely critical that there is provision in place should the worst happen. In the US as of 2016, fire departments attended 14,500 structure fires per year in high-rise buildings. Although this actually represents fewer fires than low and mid-rise buildings, high-rise fires come with their own set of challenges. The last few years have shown the very real consequences of what happens when fire takes hold of a high-rise and emphasized the necessity that fire departments are as well-equipped as possible to minimize damage and ensure a positive outcome. 

Preparing for worst case scenario

Many of the steps for safer buildings involve using materials that stop the fire from spreading. However, a safety net is needed so that in the event of a fire, it can be managed in the most effective way possible. It is irrefutable that when fighting a fire, communication is vital. Of course, it will not stop a fire in its tracks, but it is the key to enabling fire fighters to do their job effectively and above all, safely. To work effectively, fire departments must be able to communicate with each other and those within the building.  Ensuring communications infrastructure that can work in the event of a fire must be a priority. 

Comms is key 

Communication in a high-rise building is challenging at the best of times. Delivering connectivity to the higher floors requires indoor wireless systems that ensure coverage across the whole building. This is put in place as the standard to meet the connectivity demands of modern living, but if the systems were to fail in the event of a fire, there is no quick fix to enabling connectivity within the building. 

Add to this that cabling that is not designed specifically to withstand fire and burns through incredibly quickly. As soon as that happens it knocks out the ability to communicate not only with the floor on which the fire started, but every floor above it once the riser/trunk cabling is affected. Given that most high-rise building fires begin on floors no higher than the 6th story, it risks losing communication with the vast majority of the building.  This leaves those in the building, both occupants and emergency crew isolated and makes the entire operation far riskier than it needs to be. 

Baking in fire-safe connectivity

As with any problem there is more than one way to approach putting in fire-resistant communications equipment that will work continuously and effectively in an emergency situation. It is possible to encase cabling in fire-resistant conduits or heat resistant trunking and although this will absolutely do the job, from a practical, investment and total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) perspective there must be a simpler way. Using multiple components for communication systems complicates the procurement and installation process, plus any problems with the conduit leaves the comms system unprotected. So, what is the alternative?

Until recently we have had to look at using multiple elements to meet fire safety requirements. However, the advent of fire-resistant cables, like RFS’s Dragonskin, offers a more effective way to tackle the issue, offering capabilities that have only previously been achieved using alternative solutions. Cables that can survive burning continuously for two hours at temperatures up to 1850oF (1000°C) are the backbone of the next generation of public safety communications equipment. 

Simple and effective

Dragonskin cables have been tested in line with the most stringent regulation and offer the same assurances as existing multi-part fire-resistant communication systems but with simplicity that make safety easier than ever. 

For construction and integration professionals it has the benefit of working in the exact same way as normal communication cable for radio frequency signal transport. It occupies the same space and there is no secondary element needed to make it firesafe leading to a much-streamlined installation. 

For building owners, it gives complete peace of mind. There is no complexity to the solution for the end-user, but it does give the safety reassurances that are needed for the stakeholder with whom the buck for safety ultimately stops. 

For emergency services professionals it offers assurances that communication that is such an essential part of their job will not become compromised at any stage of an emergency operation. This allows them to fully concentrate on the job in hand and removes the risk of becoming blind to the situation at any point due to loss of communications. 


Living in high-rise buildings is perfectly safe offers a solution to the demand to live in the world’s most vibrant and densely populated cities. The most important thing is to make sure that if the worst happens, those responsible for the construction and ongoing management of those buildings have put everything possible in place to ensure safety as the emergency is handled. By making this as frictionless as possible with single solution fire-resistant RF cabling, it becomes incredibly simple, leaving no excuses for not putting in place a communications safety-net.