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Fires pose a large threat to IT companies and companies with server rooms because of the damage to equipment, loss of time needed to repair said equipment, loss of money, etc. Seems obvious, right? But, what many people don’t realize is that the smoke from a fire can also cause significant damage to electronic equipment. The reason being is that the smoke contains chloride and sulfur combustion by-products which are highly corrosive. Brief exposure to smoke may not necessarily cause damage to equipment, but it could still pose a problem later on down the road. So, it is important that server room fires are put out as quickly as possible.
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The National Fire Protection Association created fire prevention recommendations for information technology equipment that includes some standard precautionary measures a business can take to protect its equipment. These tips go beyond your classic fire alarm or water suppression system, and could save your company thousands in repairs.
The National Fire Protection Association reported a few top causes of server room fires. We believe knowing the leading causes of fires in server rooms can help businesses prevent these fires in the first place. So let's get into it.
Electrical failure in IT equipment
Fires from electrical failure can occur when electrical components, like switches or power inverters, are overloaded or short circuited. Electrical failure is the leading cause of server room fires, so the way a server room is designed or laid out can have a large impact on your business's fire safety.
Overheated electrical equipment
From time to time, electrical equipment will overheat. That doesn’t necessarily mean a fire will ignite each time a piece of equipment overheats; however, without a proper cooling system, your business is at higher risk of fires.
Wastebasket starting on fire
Here is a fire hazard that could be easily avoided.
Subfloor wiring malfunctions
The servers themselves aren’t the only thing that could cause a fire hazard. Faulty or frayed wiring below the server room can also create fire risks.
Fire spreading to a server room
Server rooms have a unique challenge when it comes to fire protection because of their many walls and ceiling cable penetrations. This can cause server rooms to be more vulnerable to fires from other areas in the building.
Set Up Your Server Room to Avoid Fire Hazards
There are a couple of precautionary measures a company can take to avoid a server room overheating.
This is especially important for large IT companies that have a lot of different equipment. Insuring that your equipment has enough space to ventilate and cool down is one of the best ways that you can protect your server room from heat.
According to ISACA, "Damage to functioning information technology equipment can begin at a sustained ambient temperature of 79.4°C (175°F), with the degree of damage increasing with further elevations of the ambient temperature and exposure time." So, keeping your server room cool even before a fire breaks out can protect your equipment from damage.
Train IT Professionals in Fire Safety
Because electrical equipment fires fall under a different class of fires from your average bonfire, it's a good idea to take some time to train your professionals in fire safety. Be sure that each person knows how to use a fire extinguisher, so they can all be ready to use one should the need arise. If your company has different kinds of fire extinguishers, keep notes about each fire extinguisher detailing which classes of fires each extinguisher is effective against. For example, a CO2 extinguisher is only an effective measure for fighting class B and C fires.
Class A Fire - ordinary combustibles, wood, paper, textiles, etc.
Class B Fire - flammable liquids, gasoline, oils, fats, etc.
Class C Fire - live electrical wiring, motors, appliances, etc.
Class D Fire - combustible metals, magnesium, potassium, etc.
Understanding the different classes of fire and how fire comes to be is a helpful place to start. We like to use the fire triangle to explain fire because it is simple to understand and easy to remember. Fire is what we see when there is a chemical reaction between heat, fuel, and oxygen, so a fire can be put out if any one of those three aspects is disrupted.
Our STOP-FYRE® clean-agent is able to disrupt each one of these aspects, putting out fires faster than other kinds of fire extinguishers.
We recommend clean-agent fire extinguishers to IT companies because they leave no corrosive residue behind, can put out obstructed fires, don’t conduct electricity, and they can put out class A, B, and C fires. Our STOP-FYRE® extinguishers are also lightweight and can be operated one-handed, making them intuitive in the event of a fire.
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Install a Clean-Agent Fire Suppression System
To limit the amount of damage a fire and its smoke can cause, we recommend installing an automatic fire suppression system in your server room so that your server room can be protected while you’re away.
Depending on the kind of fire suppression system your company uses could also determine the amount of post-fire damage your company will see as well. For example, many companies opt for a water suppression sprinkler system to extinguish fires. While this is a great option for a business with lots of combustibles (and in some cases is required by insurance companies), this is not ideal for a company with large amounts of technology. The reason being, electrical fires fall under Class C fires, and an Air-Pressurized Water (APW) system is only suitable for Class A fires. In fact, using an APW system could spread the flames and cause more damage in the end. Water damage can also cause a short circuit arc that results in sparks and ultimately fire. Most electrical fires start from some form of arcing. Arcing occurs when there is a break in an electrical circuit which causes the current to jump across a gap, producing sparks and heat. This is another reason why it is essential to keep combustibles away from your electronic equipment.
We certainly aren’t the first people to say it, and we won’t be the last: your server room isn’t a storage closet. Be sure that you are limiting the amount of extra items kept in your storage room. And, never put papers on top of your servers. We recommend that server rooms are cleaned regularly and that someone go through to ensure cleanliness each week.
In case a server should overheat, we want to be sure that there aren’t any items touching it that could ignite and burst into the flames. The same is true with dust. It’s important that servers are dusted regularly as dust can quickly become kindling if a server should overheat.
Another way to ensure that your server room is set up for safety is to schedule a professional inspection. Some fire departments will do free inspections for businesses that ask, so chatting with your local fire department is a great place to start. If you aren’t able to get a professional inspection done, you can have an employee do a walk-through and look for frayed cords and other fire hazards. If any damaged wiring is found, those should be repaired quickly.