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Did someone just yell FIRE!?!?

Some guidelines to protect your datacenter from fire damage.

As an IT security professional, probably one of the last things on your mind is a fire in your data center. Unless you've been involved in the business continuity or disaster recovery planning for your organization, you've been focusing your attention on preventing Internet incursions.

Unfortunately, the most common event that destroys or damages an IT infrastructure is a fire. And nearly just as unfortunate is that most data centers in small to large organizations are ill-suited to properly detect and respond to fires. Furthermore, most of the fires that cause IT damage are initiated by the IT equipment itself. Just think about it. How many hundreds of electrical cords and cables are tangled up throughout your data center? How often are they stepped on, bent, or otherwise damaged? Have you ever noticed some cables, transformer power cord boxes, surge protectors or UPSes get warm or even hot? It is not a stretch of the imagination to understand that many fires are initiated by electrical spark fires in the data center itself.

Detecting fires is actually quite easy. All it takes is an inexpensive smoke or fire detector and a power supply (often provided by a battery). Fire detectors should be placed throughout your data center. Even if it is enclosed in a single room, you should have multiple sensors. Here are the most highly recommended locations for the placement of fire detectors:

  • within the drop ceiling
  • within the raised floor
  • within the inbound and outbound HVAC vents
  • within the room itself
  • within any sealed system cabinet

For room sized areas, deploy at least two alarms in opposite corners of the space. Be sure always to locate smoke or fire detectors at least 16 inches from the corner where the ceiling or floor intersects the wall.

Regularly check that your detectors have power. Many detector systems connect directly into the electrical source of your building while including a battery for brownout/blackout operations. Make sure the battery has sufficient power by replacing all batteries every six months.

Even if you don't have an automated detection and response system to suppress fires in your data center, detecting fire as early as possible will help to protect life and property. Ultimately, if you detect a fire early, it can usually be extinguished before extensive damage occurs.

About the author
James Michael Stewart is a researcher and writer for Lanwrights, Inc.

This was last published in October 2002

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