Protecting Your IT Assets - The Best Solution

Presented by: Robert Bell
President BelPro Fire Specialists, Inc.

How would you overcome the down time and recover from the loss of critical information in the event of a fire? With the value of both equipment and data, it©s important to know that you have options that can keep your employees and assets safe, allowing you to stay competitive and in business, even when a fire occurs. You could always choose to take a calculated risk that a fire won©t happen to your business. Or you can incur the cost of a disaster recovery operation after a fire has happened. However the best possible solution available is easily attainable through installing an engineered fire detection suppression system.

Fire Protection 101: Exploring the Options

Sprinkler Systems
One of the most common fire protection options in general, is a water sprinkler system. The design and intent of sprinkler systems is not to save electronic equipment or the data stored on it but to protect only the building and its structure. The cons for this application in an IT environment are that data will probably be lost due to the increase in temperature, the damage done to the electrical equipment from water being discharged onto it and the building contents being damaged due to flooding water. If there is a sub-floor fire, water will have to fill the sub-floor before the fire is extinguished. Additionally, there is always the potential of water damage from a broken sprinkler head or pipe. But perhaps most importantly: water is not three-dimensional and will not penetrate into cabinets, racking and every crevice of the room, in order to get to the source of the fire.

An option to the standard water sprinkler system is a double interlock pre-action dry sprinkler system. A pro of the pre-action system is that water cannot accidentally leak into the room because of a break in the sprinkler head or the pipe network. Also if there is a building fire alarm it will activate before there is an actual water flow, possibly allowing personnel to respond before water damage is done. The cons of the pre-action dry sprinkler system are the same as the normal sprinkler system.

Monitored Fire Alarm Systems
One of the least expensive ways to help in limiting fire damage is a fire alarm system that is monitored by a U.L. Listed Central Station. The Central Station monitors the system 24/7 and if smoke is detected in the protected room, the central station calls the local fire department to respond to the scene. The pros of this are that the fire department is hopefully able to extinguish the fire before the building is too damaged. The cons are that the fire departments extinguishing agent by choice will be water. If the fire department does not have access into the building further structural damage will result in addition to the eventual damage from the water application. The monthly monitoring fee must also be taken into consideration.

VESDA Detection Systems
A VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) detection system is basically an air sampling system. It operates through the use of a smoke detector and a PVC pipe network that constantly samples the air for smoke. It utilizes a dual filtering system that is able to differentiate between dust particles and actual smoke. This type of system is up to 100 times more sensitive than a conventional smoke detector. The pros are that the system is sometimes able to detect smoke before smoke is even visible to the human eye, allowing proper personnel the time to respond before extensive damage is done. The cons are the system has to be monitored by a U.L. Listed Central Station so that someone can be notified to respond to the location. This increases the time it will take before someone arrives. The responding parties© ability to properly extinguish the fire may also be in question.

Engineered Fire Detection Suppression Systems
Often the best solution and one of the more common and acceptable ways to protect high value assets is with an engineered fire detection suppression system. This type of system can operate automatically and/or manually and is designed specifically for each individual room and type of hazard it is protecting. The two most common types of suppression agents used in Engineered Systems go by the trade names FE-25 and FM-200. Both are manufactured by Dupont Chemical and distributed by FIKE Fire Systems Inc. The agents extinguish the fire by cooling it at the molecular level. Once the agent comes into contact with the flames or hot surfaces, it breaks down into its byproducts, which attach to the hot atoms that are produced during the fire and cools them thus extinguishing the fire.

This agent is stored as a liquid under pressure in it©s own cylinder. Once it is released into it©s discharge pipe network, it turns into a gas, which is the same state in which it is discharged into the room. There are many pros to this type of system. The gas is nonconductive, noncorrosive, leaves no residue and most important is humanly safe. It is U.L. listed for normally occupied spaces and is completely discharged into the room in less than ten seconds. This quickly and efficiently extinguishes the fire, which eliminates data loss, equipment damage, personal injury and limits down time, while potentially saving your business. The perceived con is the installation and maintenance cost of the system. However, when thought of as an ounce of prevention it is worth far more than a pound of cure.