When it comes to safeguarding
servers and electronic media from
fires, Steve Davis, vice president of
business development with the Bick
Group, which provides general fire
alarm systems as well as special hazards
detection and suppression systems,
says that many data centers believe a
sprinkler system approved by the local
fire authority is enough protection for
the facility. However, he says, adding a
clean agent system may be more expensive, but would prevent damage to the
stored media. A number of gaseous fire
suppression agents, including halon,
A facility’s fire detection system
should include audio and visual alarms.
According to the Bick Group, policies
established by the American Disabilities
Act require that mission critical facilities, such as data centers, have audio
and visual alarm systems in place.
After these basic considerations have
been addressed, facility managers can
also consider other issues that relate to
fire suppression and facility operation
in the case of a fire. For instance, is the
number of fire hydrants available sufficient, should a backup generator be in-
stalled or should a special navigational
system that allows the fire department
or emergency personnel to quickly gain
access to the facility be installed?
THE VAULT ENVIRONMENT
While records storage centers have
traditionally stored paper documents,
the advent of digital media has resulted
in greater use of media vaults.
Mayer says vaults should include a
fire-rated door and walls and the record
center itself should also be fire rated.
The key is to keep potential fire
trouble spots as far removed as possible
from the documents being stored.
Mayer also suggests that furnaces,
air conditioners and generators should
be located either outside the building,
when possible, or separated from the
stored material by a firewall.
In a paper, the Bick Group’s Davis notes
that in addition to smoke detection
equipment, early-warning air sampling
fire detection systems can provide advanced warning. These systems consist
of two components: a wall-mounted
detection unit and a network of piping
that extends through the records center.
The pipe network returns air samples
from the environment that is being
protected back to the detection unit
for analysis. The air sample is drawn
into the pipe network through holes in
the pipe, a capillary or extended drop
from the pipe or sample heads.
While the easiest method would
be to run these pipes along the ceiling, the Bick Group notes this would
only be effective in the event that the
facility’s air conditioning stops operating and the warm air rises to the
ceiling level. Instead, the Bick Group
suggests integrating the air-sampling
system with the facility’s existing fire
detection system, which will provide
audible alarms and allow for correct
While the process to determine the
optimal fire detection and suppression
system for a records center can be considered complex, the investment in time
and equipment and the peace of mind
it brings are definitely worth it. ■
The author is senior and Internet
editor of SDB and can be reached at
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