Officials for FM Approvals yesterday expressed support for delaying the effective date for a controversial intrinsically safe standard that would require a redesign of portable handsets and the need for additional tower sites in many LMR systems.

FM Approvals representatives made the proposal during a meeting with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), according to Steve Zenofsky, assistant vice president and manager of public relations for FM Approvals. Under the existing FM Approvals 3610 standard, battery-operated devices such as portable LMR radios would need to be redesigned by Jan. 1, 2012, to meet the new intrinsically safe standard.

“We understand the concerns of the end-user community,” Zenofsky said. “We want to work with the manufacturers and end users to define a new effective date.”

Zenofsky said FM Approval would support LMR user groups in the U.S. to pursue a “transparent” process for a new intrinsically safe standard through other standards bodies. However, until a new standard is established, FM Approvals would place a “technology freeze” on battery-operated radios designed prior to Jan. 1, 2012.

From public-safety entities to enterprises, LMR user groups have expressed concern about the new intrinsically safe standard, which effectively would require that portable radios emit signals at less than 1 watt instead of the multiwatt capability that is available in most current LMR portable units.

For entities wanting to have intrinsically safe systems, the new standard would require them to replace all portable units and to deploy more tower sites and repeaters, so the lower-powered portable units would be able to communicate on the LMR network. One Florida public-safety organization estimated that it would have to pay between $36 million and $43 million to maintain the same LMR coverage and capability using the new intrinsically safe standard, NPSTC Executive Director Marilyn Ward said.

She said NPSTC members “were very happy that they (FM Approvals representatives) showed up,” but they were “very passionate” in expressing their belief that a new intrinsically safe standard is unnecessary, because the existing standard has provided users with a high level of safety for years and has not been cited as being deficient in any way.

While NPSTC members were pleased that FM Approvals attended the meeting — other invited standards entities declined to participate — and made a proposal, Ward emphasized that NPSTC did not commit to agreeing to any aspect of the FM approvals recommendations during yesterday’s meeting.

“We left them with the same message as we had when they entered the room: ‘We don’t understand why you’re doing this,’” Ward said.

Zenofsky said FM Approvals adopted the intrinsically safe standard to harmonize the U.S. with the rest of the world, while recognizing advancements in battery technology.

NPSTC has established a working group to look at the intrinsically safe standard process, Ward said.