Download PDF version

Due to the growing usage of mobile data, consumption of rich internet content and data storage demand from a variety of industries, our lives now rely on data centers. These datacenters host and manage the data that makes our day-to-day activities possible - from energy and lighting, to urban traffic and even security systems.

Data centers are one of the fastest-growing categories of real estate asset in our cities. London alone has over 300 data centers. The U.S. and EU currently have the most, and the number in the Middle East and Asia are also growing rapidly. Data centers are large, complex, mission-critical facilities.

Key operational disruption risks

The high value equipment contained within them needs to be running 24/7/365 with uninterrupted electricity and a constant flow of cool air to secure IT equipment and information. Any interruptions to its operation can have enormous knock-on effects and the operational risks around any disruption are high, in terms of time, money and reputation.

One of the key operational disruption risks is from fire. The threat of fires at data centers is higher than people might imagine, with electrical fires a significant risk given the vast networks of cabling and electronic equipment used. So fire safety solutions are crucial considerations for those building and managing data centers.

Providing good customer service

Every data center requires best-in-class fire safety and security protection to ensure minimal impact

Every data center requires best-in-class fire safety and security protection to ensure minimal impact if things go wrong, so whether creating a purpose-built datacenter or retrofitting an existing one, Chubb Fire & Security recognizes key issues that need to be taken into consideration.

Seconds matter when dealing with datacenters, so the solutions need to be fast-acting, but they also have to be very reliable, as false alarms result in unnecessary stoppages which need to be avoided at all cost. Fire systems also need good back-up, to have a strong field team, so the customer has quick access to technicians who provide good customer service and can respond swiftly to the call to ensure business and operational continuity.

diverse range of solutions

There are a number of different ways of protecting a datacenter from fire. Before deciding on the type of system required to protect a datacenter, it’s important to conduct a risk analysis to understand the needs of the organization, the environment and the main risks. There are different considerations, such as whether the datacenter provides a centralized or decentralized function with a diverse range of solutions.

One of the choices is between a water or gas solution. If gas, there are two options to consider: inert gas or halogenated gas. Gas protection consists of injecting halogenated gas into the room, which both reduces the oxygen content and interferes with the combustion process. A second method is to reduce the oxygen level by injecting an inert gas into the room.

High-Pressure water mist

Water mist will spray a fine high-pressure water mist into the burning area

One such inert gas we use is aragonite, which does not affect the ozone layer, is non-toxic and is not a greenhouse gas. It is stored at high pressure (300 bar) and can be injected in the room at a lower pressure that decreases the oxygen concentration very rapidly to extinguish the fire. When activated, gas systems may require evacuation of staff.

In order to minimize disruption to the datacenter, the extinguishing gas nozzles can be fitted with sound absorbers that limit the noise reduction associated with gas release and prevent damage to data center equipment. Alternatively there are two water-based options to consider - conventional sprinkler or water mist systems. Water mist will spray a fine high-pressure water mist into the burning area.

Semi-Pressurized environment

The evaporation of water significantly cools the fire combustion zone and displaces the oxygen locally around the fire. It may sound strange to introduce water into an area with electricity and mission-critical information, but in fact the high pressure water mist system brings the best of sprinkler and gas and is highly suitable for suppressing fires in data centers.

Indeed it can be favored in certain instances because in order to incorporate methods using gas, the room housing the datacenter needs either to be purpose-built with gas suppression in mind or retrofitted to withstand a semi-pressurized environment. The systems involving water do not require the room to be pressure sealed nor the ventilation system switched off, nor people evacuated. The discharge is localized so it minimizes the water damage and resetting to standby position is both fast and inexpensive.

Emergency generator rooms

Unlike sprinkler and gas systems, high pressure water mist requires full scale testing

Lastly, the water mist pump unit is the same regardless of the size of the datacenter (the pumps have to be designed to supply six activated sprinklers) and many risk areas can be protected, for example technical spaces, offices and emergency generator rooms. But unlike sprinkler and gas systems, high pressure water mist requires full scale testing to ensure its effectiveness.

Currently there is only one internationally recognized standard published by FM Global 5560 (2016) appendix M and N. An advantage of this test protocol is it takes account forced ventilation that reflects the real life conditions within a datacenter. Recently, a shift has been taking place across our cities, as buildings utilize integrated solutions to manage all of a building’s fire and security solutions.

Protecting vital internal infrastructure

This means that an integrated system can include surveillance systems, fire suppression systems and alarms - all aligned to optimize response time and protect vital internal infrastructure. The datacenter operators can see the actual fire situation so the whole process of identification to center’s infrastructure – but most important to fire solutions for data centers is business extinguishing takes 10 seconds, reduced from 15 minutes with a traditional fire alarm response.

Key considerations in all of these systems choices are safety, cost of implementation, best utilization of the space available, and perhaps impact on the environment and operations around the systems that operate as part of the data continuity.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command
How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command

Drones give Incident Commanders an aerial view, increasing their situational awareness of fires and helping them to develop tactics to tackle them. Station Officer Lee Newman details how the technology was implemented by London Fire Brigade and the continued benefits. Identify external risks The Grenfell Tower fire has resulted in revisions to several operational procedures and the introduction of new equipment within the Brigade. A few months after the fire, the Brigade was tasked with setting up a trial to test the feasibility of having a drone capability to identify external risks and assess building stability at incidents, providing essential safety information that could facilitate ongoing internal firefighting operations. Implement the use of drones The Brigade implemented the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 Working with partners who had an existing drone capability, as well as drone experts, the Brigade began work to implement the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 as a trainer and reserve drone. In the summer of 2018, an Emergency Services bespoke course was run by Essex Police to train the Brigade’s team of drone pilots, who were all PfCO qualified within one week. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational. Working of the drones On its first day of being available for incidents, the team received an order to attend a 15-pump fire at a leisure center, which was under renovation. They were asked to confirm if there were cylinders on the roof of the building and immediately put the drone to use. The team flew and relayed the camera footage onto a large screen that was fitted into a van provided for the trial. The drone footage was able to identify, to the Incident Commander’s satisfaction, that the cylinders were actually rolls of asphalt due to be laid on the roof as part of the renovation. If the drone concept could have proven its use in one job, this was it. The information from the drone allowed the Incident Commander to decide not to make it ‘cylinders confirmed’ and saved a lot of unnecessary extra appliance movements. Applications of drone Since that first callout, the team has been to around 300 incidents of six pumps or more, including persons in the water, fires, and various missing people’s incidents both in London and into other counties, assisting police forces. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational Drone inventory The Brigade’s drone capability inventory includes a Matrice 300 with an H20T dual thermal and optical camera; a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual with multi attachments; a Mavic Air 2 and a Yuneec 520. The Brigade also has a Teradek live streaming device and multiple tablets for receiving the streamed footage. The Brigade operates with two Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs – plug-in hybrid SUVs – and has split the drone equipment into two, with one vehicle carrying the drone and batteries, and the other carrying all the support kit and ancillaries. Working in dark conditions The drones are permitted to fly up to 400 ft above ground level or higher in an emergency and can fly as fast as 50 mph. They also can act as a loudspeaker to give instructions or reassurance and shine a bright spotlight in dark or low light conditions. 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service. The team is working closely with its blue light partners, including the: Metropolitan Police Service, several search and rescue teams, and a host of fire services surrounding the capital, as well as giving advice to other upcoming drone teams around the UK. Use of drone in future The Brigade’s drone capability has been molded to how it sees the future and what it holds in the way of drone use. For example, the Brigade has developed a capability to drop water rescue aides to people at water incidents, which helps to keep them afloat long enough to be rescued. The drone can also be used alongside the swift water rescue teams to provide situational awareness of hazards and the resulting risks during the rescue phase. Delivering fire escape tools The Brigade also invested in fire escape hoods in late 2018 and has already demonstrated how one might be delivered via a drone to a balcony above the height of an aerial appliance while using the Mavic Enterprise 2 to relay instructions via the loudspeakers. These possible new uses are pushing the boundaries of the Brigade’s original concept and demonstrate how London Fire Brigade works to stay ahead of the curve. 

Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition
Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition

There is a long tradition of canines in the fire service, from Dalmatians riding shotgun in the fire truck to mixed breeds rescued from fires that later become the fire company mascot. The tradition has taken a hit recently in Chicago, where dogs are no longer allowed at firehouses after one station dog killed a smaller breed canine near a firehouse in the Englewood neighborhood. The incident The firehouse dog in Chicago, named Bones, was a mixed breed stray rescued off the street that was living at Engine 116 at 60th Street and Ashland Avenue. A neighbor was walking her smaller breed dog past the firehouse and watched in horror as Bones attacked and killed her small dog. After the incident, Chicago’s Acting Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt issued a department memo: “Any and all prior permissions for dogs in the fire stations or on fire apparatuses are hereby revoked … effective immediately.” Chicago Firehouse dogs Most of Chicago’s firehouse dogs are strays that were picked up and brought to firefighters by the public. Fire crews and paramedics care for the dogs, train them, feed them and get them inoculated and spayed or neutered, then ask formal permission to keep the dogs on site. Historically, permission has been granted, in effect saving the dogs from being euthanized. Breed of choice The tradition of dogs and the fire service goes back centuries, to the 1700s, when carriage dogs first trotted alongside horse-drawn fire carriages. Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses, and grace under pressure. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) began utilizing Dalmatians as early as the 1870s. Dalmatians as firehouse ambassadors When motorized vehicles came on the scene, Dalmatians were already associated with firefighters, who continued to keep them on-site as firehouse residents and mascots. Increasingly, Dalmatians and other dogs became public ambassadors for firehouses and were involved in public education about fire safety and emergency preparedness for school and community groups. For example, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, a Dalmatian from Clarksville, Ark., was a character in her own set of children’s books about fire safety and traveled around the country teaching children about fire tips. reduce stress, provide comfort Currently, firehouse dogs are other breeds, too, many rescued from house fires or other tragedies. Firehouses often adopt dogs, who become symbols of resiliency, bravery, fortitude – and provide comfort and companionship for firefighters who face high levels of stress on the job. After the 9/11 attacks, two firefighters from Rochester, N.Y., gifted the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian puppy, appropriately named Twenty. The dog served as a source of comfort to the firefighters, who lost seven members of the company in 9/11. Dogs recognize signals Taken in as a stray in 1929, a dog named Nip served 10 years with New York’s Engine Company No. 203. During his service, the dog was injured by broken glass, falling debris, scalding burns, and bruises from falling off the fire engine. Nip could recognize all bells and signals. On fire scenes, Nip could alert firefighters if he knew something was wrong and sometimes run into burning buildings to look for victims. Unfortunately, Nip was killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of the firehouse in 1939 (and was stuffed by a taxidermist and displayed at the firehouse until 1974). Dogs promote fire safety Dogs promote fire safety outside the firehouse Dogs also promote fire safety outside the firehouse. For example, accelerant-sniffing dogs are trained to detect minute traces of accelerants that may be used to start a fire, according to the State Farm Arson Dog Program. The special bond between firefighters and dogs is the stuff of legend, despite the recent unfortunate events in Chicago – an ignoble scar on a long, colorful history of dogs in the fire service. Hopes remain that the decision can somehow be reversed, based on social media postings. “This is the first tragedy I have heard of in … 25 years,” said the administrator of the Firehouse Pups group.

What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?
What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications for almost every industry, some more than others. With the pandemic stretching well into a second year, the non-medical consequences continue, and many are wondering about which of the required changes might become permanent. As regards the fire sector, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What impact has COVID-19 had on the fire industry?

vfd