Wiring keeps broadcast outlets in the air

Empire State Building telecom retrofit meets tenant needs brought by 911

June 01, 2002 |

These days, technology firms can wire an office building with high-speed communications almost as fast as it takes Clark Kent to change into Superman. But New York City’s Empire State Building was one that could not be wired in a single bound. It took months of planning, construction and coordination between the building’s management team and telecommunications engineers and technicians to get the 102-story building up to high speed.

The wiring of the building couldn’t have come at a more important time for the building’s managers. In the wake of Sept. 11, eight television stations as well as numerous radio stations that had facilities in the World Trade Center relocated to the Empire State Building following the attacks.

“Getting the building on line with telecommunications wiring was a process, and it’s worked out well,” says Alex Smirnoff, director of telecommunications for the Empire State Building. “The challenge has been handling the aftermath of 911.” He says his team has had to take additional floor space to accommodate the broadcast facilities. Out-of-service air ducts have been used to run transmission lines up to the top of the building, while keeping the observatory open.

“One of the most difficult parts about the whole thing is that the stations are all on the air and they don’t want to go off. We have to work around the stations,” says Smirnoff.

Wiring makes relocations possible

If it weren’t for the building management’s foresight in having the building wired for telecommunications service two years earlier, the stations could not have been accommodated.

Typically, integrated communications providers can wire office buildings within 30 to 60 days, says Tisha Kesler, former director of public relations for OnSite Access, the New York-based integrated telecommunications provider selected to wire the building. Like many others, the company fell victim to the technology bust in 2001 and declared bankruptcy. The company’s integrated telecom operations are now owned by E-Link, New York, which Smirnoff says have operated the service well.

Once a building is wired with copper and fiber-optic cabling and all systems are installed, numerous communications services are available to tenants, including high-speed Internet, voice, data and enhanced services.

One benefit of having a telecom wiring infrastructure and services provider in a building is that once wired the company could establish services to tenants within a week, Kesler says.

Internet services a must

Knowing that the Internet has permanently altered communications methods, building’s management team wanted to offer its tenants more than a view and a world-famous address. Tenants needed access to high-speed communications services that have become as essential in today’s business world as heat and electricity. “The wiring was done in order to attract tenants, but also to provide means for each existing tenants could take advantage of the advanced technology in terms of higher band width communications, both for digital transmissions and for exchanging inventory data and the like. We had to see what we could do to provide them with something,” says Smirnoff.

OnSite engineer Scott Ringelspaugh headed the communication provider’s construction and engineering team. His first task was to evaluate the 2.2 million-sq.-ft. building for possible riser pathways to install cabling and point-of-presence (POP) locations in which to house equipment. In most cases, cabling is installed in existing riser spaces and needs approximately 80 to 100 square feet for a POP, space that can usually be found in a building’s basement or in an existing telecom closet.

However, nothing was typical with the building. Ringelspaugh’s team concluded that the building would need three voice and three data POPs to support more than 800 tenants. In addition, because the building is more than 70 years old, building out in the property’s existing telecom closet was not possible. The existing telecom closet was filled to capacity with wires dating back to the 1930s. The same could be said for the building’s existing risers, which had no room for growth. The team searched stairwells, airshafts, pipe shafts and the basement for an alternate route.

Closets provide pathway

Because of the structure’s tiered design, no vertical paths ran the entire height of the building. However, vacant janitorial closets provided a vertical path to run Category 3 copper cabling and fiber-optic cabling from the second to the 54th floors. On the 54th floor, a 125-ft. transition was necessary to meet the closet on the 55th floor. Once again, from floors 61 to 62, a 25-ft. transition was required. From the 61st floor to the 80th floor &m> the last floor of commercial office space &m> the closets were aligned.

Building the risers also required the drilling of core holes in concrete slabs in order to pass the cabling from floor to floor. Because all floors were occupied, all drilling was done after hours or on weekends. By the end of the project, 144 core drills were made. The team also encountered electrical conduits hidden in slabs, requiring rerouting of some conduits.

Next, Ringelspaugh located space for the POPs. Because the janitorial closets were being utilized, the building management allowed equipment to be placed within the secured closets. However, as the closets were somewhat small, the voice and data POPs had to be split into six separate locations within as many secured closets.

Tenant hook ups

After about six months of work, services became operational. More than 100 tenants signed up for services within the first three months. Here again, the building presented unique challenges. In most buildings, wire can be installed above the ceilings from the intermediate distribution frame (IDF) on every floor straight to the tenant’s suite. But the building’s historic plaster ceilings were not created with broadband in mind, and could not be wired overhead. Instead, the team had to utilize hallway soffits to wire to the closest tenant, wiring around various tenant suites.

After working days, nights and weekends for six months &m> laying 20 miles of fiber-optic and copper cabling, drawing 30 pages of plans and gaining approval from the building management every step of the way &m> the building was “lit” for high-speed communications. Now the building not only glows with its red, white and blue tiers of lights, but with the hum of the Internet buzzing within its walls.

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