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Seven steps to data center fire planning

Here are a number of points you may want to address before deciding which fire protection strategy is best for your data center.

A complete and thorough fire protection strategy in the data center seems like an obvious priority. However, often the decisions are left up to those without a vested interest in the assets and operation of the facility. Here are a number of points you may want to address before deciding which fire protection strategy is best for your data center.

1. Protection = detection + suppression. The ideal protection strategy should include a smoke detection package with a fire suppression system. There are a variety of possibilities to choose from in both categories.

  • Detection. Typically, detection is cross-zoned using both photoelectric and ionization type spot detectors. Cross zoning allows the end user protection against false discharges of the suppression system, by requiring one of each type of detector to be in alarm, prior to the initiation of a discharge. High sensitivity smoke detection is also an option. This air aspirating technology allows the earliest possible detection of a combustion event. However, HSSD should never be used to initiate the discharge of a suppression system.
  • Suppression. There are multiple options to choose from for both suppression agents, and suppression systems. Understand what is important to you and your company… reputation, product maturity, environmental profile, safety margins, known case studies, etc… Some suppression agent brands you'll want to consider: FM-200 systems, Inergen, Argonite, Novec 1230. Also, because these halon alternatives are a more mature product set now, several application specific systems are available. For example, 'in-cabinet' systems for protection of a small closet or cabinet spaces; and one manufacturer provides FM-200 agent in a virtually 'drop-in' halon replacement type system.

2. Understand your company's overall FP strategies. Query other facilities, survey computer room locations or control room facilities. Talk to risk management personnel. There may be diverging opinions within your own organization, so be prepared to support your conclusions.

3. Find trusted expertise. The science of special hazards fire protection is not simple. Know enough to know, you probably need help. However, even within the FP community, a thorough understanding of 'clean agents' can be difficult to find. Seek advice from colleagues within the data center community to find the right subject matter expert for you. Also, be involved with contractors and subs, know what you are specifying, and verify they are delivering it!

4. Understand local requirements. Many local authorities and municipalities will have their own interpretation of NFPA standards and other codes. A comprehensive understanding of these local requirements will save time and money in the long run.

5. Do a thorough risk assessment including TCO analysis of your facility. While some form of water based system (i.e. sprinklers) are likely required by code in your facility, do you really want them to go off, unless the assets are already a total loss? Understanding the levels of risk in your facility and the total cost to protect (or not to protect) against them is crucial.

6. Properly maintain the system throughout its useful life. All fire protection system manufacturers require authorized, factory trained service organizations to maintain the system for warranty coverage. It makes sense to do so. This is not an area where cost cutting should be considered. The only thing worse than not having any protection is thinking you have protection, but the system is inoperable due to poor maintenance!

7. Educate and train employees. The last thing you need at the time of an alarm is panic. Ask the installing contractor to provide on site training for all employees working in or near the facility being protected. Most will do so free of charge. Schedule training periodically to make sure your people understand and respect the protection systems installed.

About the author:
Lance D. Harry is the Business Development Manager for Fenwal Protection Systems, a business unit of Kidde-Fenwal, Inc. Lance's primary responsibility is the establishment and enhancement of relationships within the Fenwal sales structure including distribution, technical influencers and users. Lance holds a master's degree from Boston University, and is a registered Professional Engineer, both in Mechanical Engineering. Lance has worked in a variety of technical, managerial, marketing and sales related positions within the fire protection community over the past 10 years including managing the product development and design activities in clean agent systems for Kidde-Fenwal, Inc., in Ashland, Mass. prior to joining the sales team with Fenwal. Click here to contact Lance.

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