Fire Suppression: Protect Your Data

Fire suppression systems are a common sight in offices and industrial buildings. They are designed to automatically stop or control a fire to keep information and workers safe. However, if your business requires many servers, your need for an excellent fire suppression system increases drastically.

Smoke detector

Do You Need Fire Suppression?

Every building can benefit from an automatic fire suppression system because you can’t be everywhere at once. A system ensures you, your workers and visitors are kept safe during a fire. Even if you are unaware of the fire, your automatic system kicks in to stop the threat.

If you have a server room or a data center, your chances of fire in your office increase. Therefore, having a fire suppression system is an absolute must. With so many servers, constantly working, these rooms get hot, and if electrical equipment fails, a fire could easily start. You need a fire suppression system to protect your data and people. In the event of a fire, a fire suppression system automatically turns on to douse the fire without the need for human interaction. These systems stop a fire in its tracks to keep your data safe and secure during a fire.

The goal of the suppression system is to detect the fire when it first starts. Then, using the water or gasses in your suppression system, control the fire. It stops the fire before it spreads to more servers or different areas in your business.

Classes of Fires

Not all fires are the same, and not every fire can be treated the same. In fact, some fire suppression methods may be ineffective on certain fires or even make them worse. To first understand fire suppression, you must understand the different classes of fires:

  • Class A: Class A fires have ordinary combustibles like wood, trash and paper.
  • Class B: Class B fires burn with flammable liquids or gases like gasoline, paint and propane.
  • Class C: Class C fires are electrical equipment fires, but once the power source has been removed, it turns into another class, based on the substance burning.
  • Class D: Class D fires have combustible metals as their fuel, which includes potassium, sodium and magnesium.
  • Class K: Class K fires are those that burn in cooking oils and greases like animal and vegetable fats.

Types of Fire Suppression

Overhead water sprinklers are the most basic fire suppression system, and they are appropriate for class A fires. When these sprinklers sense smoke, they spray water throughout the office, drenching the fire. Sprinklers are one of the most popular options for fire suppression because they work well.

Sprinkler system

Another option for stopping fires in your server room is an inert gas fire suppression system. The goal of this kind of system is to stop the fire by reducing the oxygen level. Instead of using water, it unleashes inert gasses. This combination of gasses overwhelms the oxygen and reduces it to below 15 percent but above 12 percent. At this low level, there isn’t enough oxygen for the fire to consume, forcing it to burn out. However, keeping it above 12 percent means there is still enough oxygen for people who are inside the room. Common inert gas systems include:

  • Inergen: Inergen is a mixture of 50 percent Argon, 42 percent Nitrogen and 8 percent CO2, and it is appropriate for class A and class B fires, including live electrical equipment risks.
  • Proinert: Also called Argonite, Proinert is a combination of 50 percent Argon and 50 percent Nitrogen. It is appropriate for class A and class B fires and live electrical equipment risks.
  • CO2: CO2 is Carbon Dioxide, and it is suitable for class A, B and C fires.

A third popular option is using chemical or synthetic gas. Unlike inert gas, the goal of this system is not to reduce oxygen. Similar to water, the chemicals and gasses are designed to cool the fire. As the temperature drops, the fire quickly burns out. Common chemical/synthetic gas fire suppression systems include:

  • FM200: FM200 has concentrated levels of 7.9 to 8.5 percent that absorb heat to reduce a fire’s temperature. It is suitable for class A and B fires and live electrical equipment risks.
  • Novec: Novec is similar to FM200, but it is more environmentally friendly.

Advantages of Automatic Fire Suppression

The first and most obvious advantage of a fire suppression system is that it stops fires and saves your information. Even if you are unaware that a fire has started in your server room, the system is aware. Without the need of human intervention, it starts working to quickly end the fire, so you don’t lose priceless and irreplaceable data.

Gas systems are especially fast at stopping fires. Inert gas systems take about 1-2 minutes to unleash enough gas to lower the oxygen level. Most of these systems succeed in extinguishing the fire in less than a minute. Even faster, synthetic gas fire suppressions take about 10 seconds to release its gas and cool the fire.

In addition to being fast, there are plenty of options from which you can choose. Whether it’s a mixture of Argon, Nitrogen and CO2 or 100 percent Nitrogen, you’ll find a system that works for your business and with which you feel comfortable. Plus, many of the options are not hazardous to humans or the environment when used in the proper amounts.

The final advantage is that if you choose an inert or synthetic gas option, there is generally no mess to clean up, except for any potential fire damage. They tent to not leave any residue behind or puddles of water or liquid, as with water suppression.

Disadvantages of Automatic Fire Suppression

Whatever fire suppression system you choose, there are some disadvantages to consider. Water suppression systems are the most popular, but they pose a risk when used in server rooms. Firstly, they require a large amount of clean up to remove the expelled water after the fire has been doused. Secondly, the water may actually worsen the damage to the servers or other IT equipment. Your information may be safe from a fire, but you may still lose it to water damage.

Inert gas fire suppression systems are one of the safest and is even considered a green option. However, if the system does not work properly, and oxygen falls below 12 percent, it poses serious danger to humans. If the oxygen falls to 10 to 12 percent, the first effects of asphyxiation are visible. Once the oxygen falls below 10 percent, the threat of death increases.

Chemical and synthetic gas fire suppression systems are also quite safe for your servers. Like inert gas, however, they pose dangers to humans when the systems are not designed correctly. High doses of the chemicals are toxic to humans. As with inert gas systems, it is important to ensure your system is in proper working condition at all times.

Other Factors to Consider for Your Fire Suppression

In addition to having a good fire suppression system, there are a few other factors to consider that will help with the fire. Firstly, help prevent a fire in the first place by ensuring your server room or data center is properly cooled with air conditioning. The most common cooling system is PAC (precision air conditioning), which offers close control air conditioning. This system doesn’t just keep the room cool, it also reduces humidity and filtrates particles, which reduces the risk of fire.

Second, you must choose the right system and backup system. The best type of fire suppression system is one that is gas based because it won’t cause further damage to the room or servers. However, even with a gas system, you need a water suppression system as a backup in the event the gas doesn’t work.

If you do choose to have a water suppression backup system, you need to be prepared for potential leaks when it isn’t being used. This is where water detection sensors on the floor help. They will notify you if water is leaking, which may damage your servers or even cause an electrical fire.

Before the fire even starts, make sure your server room is properly sealed. If the room isn’t sealed, the PAC system won’t work as well, and the gas fire suppression system will leak out of the room if it is activated, making it less effective.

You’ll also want an emergency power off (EPO) function. This allows you to turn off your servers with one quick action. Unfortunately, this does cause damage to your data, but overall, it helps you. If you do need to use a water suppression system, turning off the servers reduces the damage they receive. Turning off the servers may even completely stop the fire, if it was caused by an electrical malfunction in one of the servers.

Don’t put your data, business or workers in danger. A fire suppression system is the best way to keep your server room or data center protected in the event of a fire. Stop the spread and ensure your important date is not destroyed with an excellent fire suppression system.

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