SBC Releases Best Practice: Understanding ERCES Backbone, Distribution, and Pathway Survivability

Excerpt from the industry-leading book Complete ERCES Handbook, with bonus content

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Posted on December 20, 2023

At the Safer Buildings Coalition, we are very often asked questions about ERCES technology, code interpretation, best practices, and every manner of topic you might imagine might come up in discussion on this admittedly complex, and at times confusing, subject.

But by far we receive more questions about pathway survivability of backbone and distribution infrastructure than any other subject. (The subject of testing requirements and best practices comes in second.)

The actual codes and standards requirements for pathway survivability have changed quite a bit since first defined in the IFC in 2009. Early code language pertaining to ERCES came from subject matter experts, many of whom had a background in fire alarm and national electrical code development.

As a result, many concepts that made good common sense from a fire alarm perspective were embedded in early ERCES code language. This was a great head start, but it had some unintended consequences. There was more focus on physical infrastructure and fire marshals and inspectors, but limited focus on RF requirements and Frequency License Holders.

One of the core physical infrastructure concepts that came over from fire alarm code is pathway survivability. Pathway survivability is defined in the Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) as “the ability of any conductor, optic fiber, radio carrier, or other means for transmitting system information to remain operational during fire conditions.”

ERCES are clearly fire and life safety systems. However, the value of survivability versus cost when considering how these systems are used suggests that we should define ERCES survivability with a good understanding of how ERCES are used in practical application.

We must determine the difference between prudent safeguards and overbuilding, or what some might call the “belts and suspenders approach,” or “ten-foot tall and bulletproof.” The codes and standards help us distinguish the two. When local requirements exceed what is called for in the code, we are likely trending toward overbuilding.

As an example: ERCES antennas are made of plastic that would melt at relatively low heat levels. Does it make sense to require all the cables and connectors attached to the antenna to be fire rated if the antenna melted?

Complete ERCES Handbook

We provide extensive coverage of Backbone, Distribution, and Pathway Survivability, along with every essential ERCES topic in our industry-leading reference: Complete ERCES Handbook.


To help jurisdictions and industry vendors engage in a good dialogue about the correct way to interpret the codes and standards pertaining to ERCES Backbone, Distribution, and Pathway Survivability, we have decided to share a detailed excerpt from our Complete ERCES Handbook, along with some useful bonus content. 

We hope you find it useful in arriving at the best decisions about pathway survivability for the ERCES projects in which you engage. 

We also hope you will consider getting your own copy of the full reference!