Methods for Protecting Computer Installations
Industrial Fire Safety
Electronic data process equipment is so vital to industry that its use must be maintained without interruption or high financial losses may be incurred.
To ensure this, certain steps must be taken to provide a limited flammability area for the equipment, control of combustibles necessary to EDP operation, and adequate storage facilities for input and output memory and program data by following standards for fire prevention and protection.
Ideally, electronic data process centers should be in separate, fire-resistive, buildings, but as this is usually not possible, the room, or rooms, should be of noncombustible construction. NFPA No. 75, “Standard for the Protection of Electronic Computer/ Data Processing Equipment,” states that walls, floors, ceilings, finish, etc., shall have a flame-spread rating of 25 or less. In addition, EDP areas should have automatic fire doors.
Effect of heat: It is also important to control the construction and combustible contents surrounding such centers, whether they are in one or multiple-story structures. Fire in an exposing area could cause a shutdown of the systems, as tapes and equipment are prone to damage at temperatures above 140°F.
All areas should have floor drains to carry off any accidental water flow, as well as that from sprinkler systems or hose lines. This applies to floors above such centers, as it is vital to control loss conditions originating in surrounding areas.
All electrical installations must be in accordance with the National Electrical Code. Computer and air-conditioning equipment must have master switches to deenergize equipment as required by the type of fire protection system in the area.
Combustible stationery and allied materials required in these centers must be kept to the minimum needed for daily operation. Daily needs should be kept in metal cabinets and/or files, and supplies stored in a fire-resistive cut-off room.
Office and computer area furnishings, including wastebaskets, should be metal, without any carpets or combustible wall finishes.
Record classification: Records used with electronic data processing equipment must be evaluated and classified as follows:
Class I includes records that are “essential to the mission of the equipment, are irreplaceable, or would be needed immediately after the fire and could not be quickly reproduced.”
Class II includes essential or important records that, “with difficulty or extra expense, could be reproduced without a critical delay of any essential missions.”
Class III includes “records whose loss might occasion much inconvenience but which could readily be replaced and which would not be an insurmountable obstacle to prompt restoration of operations.”
Class IV includes records “which are found to be no longer necessary.”
Storage requirements: Both Class I and Class II records kept in a computer room must be stored in Class C or better records protection equipment,” or in “Class 150 one-hour or better” equipment, such as an approved, firerated safe. Class III records should be kept in metal files or cabinets unless the records are on metal-based material, which requires no special protection under NFPA 75. However, I recommend that even metal-based, Class III records be kept in metal cabinets. Class IV records, of course, need no special protection as they are nonessential.
When records are stored outside computer rooms, Class I and II records must be kept in fire-resistive rooms that have a fire resistance “commensurate with the fire exposure to the records, but not less than two hours.” It is suggested that the storage rooms be limited to 50,000 cubic feet for paper records, 10,000 cubic feet for plasticbased records in noncombustible containers, and 5000 cubic feet for plastic-based records in combustible containers. No special protection is required for Class III and IV records outside computer rooms.
The observance of fire prevention standards will reduce the possibility of fire. Metal waste containers with selfclosing or fire-snuffer open tops should be provided. There should be sufficient metal, heavy-base, ash trays in each work area, and a definite time schedule should be followed for cleaning under raised floors to remove Class A combustibles that collect around electrical wires and cables with PVC insulation.
There must be a fire emergency force, or brigade, trained in the use of portable fire extinguishing equipment and general fire-safety procedures. Prefire planning with the local fire department that includes salvage procedures is also necessary. For general guidelines, see the “Industrial Fire Safety” column in the January, March and May 1968 and August 1971 issues of Fire Engineering.
Standards to follow: Fire protection of computer rooms can be accomplished by following these NFPA standards: No. 13, “Installation of Sprinkler Systems”; No. 12, “Carbon Dioxide Extinguishing Systems”; and No. 12A, “Halogenated Extinguishing Agent Systems—Halon 1301.”
The types of computer equipment must be considered in determining the fire protection needed. Type I computer equipment is constructed so that if ignition starts inside the unit, a localized fire can be expected and the damage will be limited to readily replacing the affected parts. Type II equipment is built so that when it is deenergized, “fire is not likely to spread beyond the external housing.” Type III includes all equipment not in the first two types.
In most cases, storerooms associated with computer equipment need to be protected by automatic sprinkler systems.
Total flooding urged: Computer equipment of all types, in our opinion, should be protected by Halon 1301 or carbon dioxide because these agents can totally flood the protected room, electronic equipment cabinets and raised floor areas. Extinguishment is efficient, prompt and clean. With automatic sprinklers, there must be a separate supply system, and it is recommended that an on-off type system be used to control the flow of water from sprinkler heads.
In CO2 systems, as well as with automatic sprinklers, electronic equipment must be deenergized upon activation of the protection system. With a CO2 system, there must be a signal before activation of the system to warn occupants to leave the room. Halon 1301 does not require automatic shutdown of equipment, and this is important for some electronic data processing equipment which cannot be shut down without disastrous results. Therefore, Halon 1301 is recommended for such equipment.
Portable fire extinguishers required for computer areas include both carbon dioxide and 2 1/2-gallon pressurized water units, the latter for Class A fire hazards. NFPA No. 10, “Installation of Portable Fire Extinguishers,” should be followed.
Hose systems allowed: In some cases as noted in NFPA Nos. 75 and 12, carbon dioxide hand hose systems within 50 feet of computer room give qualified fire protection if they have a capacity of at least 1 pound of carbon dioxide for each cubic foot of volume of the room if the equipment is on open racks, or ⅛ pound for each cubic foot of volume if the unit is enclosed in a cabinet. This COj hose system can replace the need for total flooding, but we recommend total automatic flooding.
Automatic fire detection systems, using either products of combustion (ionization) or smoke detectors are a must in all room and equipment fire protection installations. It is imperative to detect fire in its incipient stage, activate the fire protection system for prompt extinguishment, give audible alarms as necessary and, if required, deenergize electronic equipment and air-conditioning systems.
These are the basics for providing total fire protection for electronic data processing facilities. Review the NFPA codes enumerated and check both your insurance carrier and local fire codes so that any installation made will comply with all applicable standards and regulations.