ARA FirePASS: 6 Ways to Prevent Fires in Data Centres

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The fire strategy for any data centre should remain the same: Prevent a fire from starting, mitigate damage to sensitive equipment and reduce downtime.

Data centre managers, consultants and fire engineers traditionally have selected conventional fire protection strategies. These can include:

  1. Early warning of fire via aspirated smoke detection systems,
  2. Manual intervention, if possible (portable fire extinguishers),
  3. Confirmation of the presence of smoke from point-type detection,
  4. Automatic alarms to notify of personnel inside and outside the risk area,
  5. Automatic shutdown of ancillary services (power, air handling systems air cooling systems, uninterruptible power supplies, etc.),
  6. Time delay to allow evacuation of personnel from the risk area,
  7. Automatic fire suppression (inert gases, chemical gases, water mist, pre-action sprinklers etc.).

Whilst traditional methods can usually be relied upon to extinguish the fire, failures can occur, especially when not regularly inspected, tested and maintained. In addition these systems require the fire to have started and progressed prior to release to allow evacuation.

Data Centres can now offer their customers Fire Prevention certainty, by protecting their facilities with ARA FirePASS revolutionary Oxygen-Reduction Fire Prevention Technology. ARA FirePASS produces an atmosphere with a reduced oxygen concentration of 15%. Combustion, with the type of fuels that you would expect to find in data centres, cannot occur below 16%.

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Due to the nature of hypoxic air providing even distribution throughout the protected space it helps solve some issues compared to other systems including;

  • Aisle containment partitions, where other system need to have special consideration to baffling additional nozzles to achieve even distribution.
  • Bundled cable fires are difficult to extinguished once started as recent research from Factory Mutual (FM) has indicated which can threaten the entire data centres.
  • Cabinet fires which can present unique difficulties for suppression and sprinkler systems.

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How Does Oxygen-Reduction Fire Prevention Technology Work?

The ARA FirePASS system uses hollow membrane technology to produce an oxygen reduced environment in the following way:

  1. Reduce ambient fresh air,
  2. Purifying the air by filtering and drying,
  3. Injecting the hypoxic air into the risk area until the FirePASS oxygen monitors sense the designed, low level of oxygen,
  4. The hypoxic air flow is then switched off by the FirePASS control unit,
  5. The control unit continues to monitor the oxygen levels until inward leakage of ambient fresh air (approximately 20% per day) increases the oxygen to the designed high level,
  6. The injection of the hypoxic air supply into the risk area is then switched back on and the cycle continues. The operation audio/visual alarms are activated if levels are sensed outside of the design parameters. Alarms can also be sent to Building Management Systems.

In this way, the FirePASS system will continuously produce a hypoxic environment between 15 and 15.5% oxygen, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means any damage inside the data centre is limited to the initial faulty equipment or event. Any consequential combustion that may have spread to other equipment, has been eliminated.

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Safe for People and safe for the Environment

ARA FirePASS uses only ambient fresh air as its source to produce a precisely controlled, hypoxic atmosphere, that can be relied upon to stay within the design parameters. In the extremely unlikely event of equipment malfunction, warnings will be given.
The great majority of people will not experience any adverse reaction or discomfort in a hypoxic environment at these design levels. It is considered that, if it would be safe for a person to travel on a commercial aircraft flight, this hypoxic environment will not pose any risk.

However, personnel should not enter a hypoxic environment if they have any of the following medical conditions:

  • Severe or unstable heart or lung disease.
  • Severe anaemia.
  • If you have had a stroke of any sort in the past 12 months.
  • Pregnancy (third trimester).
  • ¬†If you have experienced any of the following adverse effects during previous stays at altitudes of 2000-3000m (6,500-10,000ft) or during airplane flights:
    • ¬†Troublesome, persistent headache
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Abdominal, chest or joint pains.
    • Shortness of breath at walking pace or severe fatigue.
  • Any other medical issues that you are concerned may affect you working in a reduced oxygen environment.

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If at any time you feel discomfort or shortness of breath, you should leave the hypoxic environment. If the hypoxic environment is the reason for this discomfort or shortness of breath, it will resolve rapidly following exposure to normal air.

This information should be at each entrance to the hypoxic area.

Frequency of Data Centre Fires

The number of incidents per year in any given country is unknown, but the reality is data centres do have fires. It has been reported that there are two fires per month in the U.S. resulting in a fire suppression system discharge. The causes of these vary, however is estimated;

  • 10% are from the IT equipment
  • 33% from power distribution equipment either inside the IT room or outside in a power or battery room. Uninterruptible power supplies are a frequent source of small fires and smoke events.
  • The remaining are less in percentages however include electrical cable/fitting faults, foreign objects in the data centre, human error, or arson.

Other Industries that benefit from our Fire Prevention Technology

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