When to consider solutions above code?
The aim of fire codes and standards are to save life and limit fire spread.
Fires are controlled but normally require manual firefighting for final extinguishment.
But sometimes, equipment has such a high value that it requires additional protection that goes above the recommended code practices.
To determine that, we should ask what is the consequence in case of total loss of an equipment?
A computer room is a good example.
30 years ago, computer equipment was very costly and hard to replace without a long delay.
Data copies were registered every day and stored in safety cabinets and recovering the activity was long and could lead to an undesirable business interruption.
Nowadays, the cost for most computer equipment is low and replacement is easy with backup capabilities, in particular when duplicate backup sites are already in place.
But some equipment can still be very critical, and can have major impacts if it is down.
When we’re working with architects or building owners, the following questions can be asked about important equipment, including data server and computer rooms:
What is the consequence of loss of all equipment within the room?
What is the consequence of loss of some of the critical equipment within the room?
Is the equipment a bottleneck for production?
Is the equipment unique?
Is it a prototype?
How long would it take to replace it?
What is the time necessary to restart the activity, if the equipment is lost?
What are the possible consequences on the business, not just for the site but also for upstream and downstream facilities?
For museums, the question surrounds the value of the items that need to be protected. The loss of some items would be a loss for humanity as it would not be possible to recreate them.
Remember the 2018 Brazil museum fire, that was qualified as an “incalculable” loss for the 200-year-old institution in Rio? This museum housed artefacts from Egypt, Greco-Roman art and some of the first fossils found in Brazil. There was no sprinkler protection.
In 1865, there was a fire at the Smithsonian castle in Washington DC with extensive damages to the castle and its collections. At that time, The New York Times called it a "national calamity."
It is not a surprise to note that nowadays, all buildings belonging to the Smithsonian Institute, are adequately protected by sprinkler systems.
Depending on the answer, we can then determine if the recommended practice from the applicable code, such as the provision of a sprinkler system to control the fire over a limited area, is sufficient, or if additional or alternative solutions should be found to extinguish the fire at its earlier stages.
Sometimes, it might be necessary to protect specifically only one piece of equipment within the room.
This is why some areas may require a gas protection system, instead of or in addition to a sprinkler system, as gas protection systems are activated by smoke detection devices and are activated before a large heat release would be necessary to activate sprinklers.
In some very specific cases, the entire area may need to be permanently maintained in an inert gas atmosphere so that there is no chance to have a fire. This is the case, for example, for process with pyrophoric metal. Pyrophoric metals, like aluminum or titanium, can burn spontaneously and very violently when they meet a hot surface in a finely divided form such as dust or fines. It could be also the case for process involving radioactive materials as a fire and generation of smoke could spread radioactivity to the environment, which is an obvious undesirable situation.
When we’re in the planning or design phases for a project, it’s important to ask: what are the consequences if some or all of the assets are damaged or destroyed? Would an event like this have upstream or downstream effects on the business or organization?
If so, the equipment or assets may justify fire protection systems that go well beyond code in order to adequately protect and preserve it.
For Franck Orset I’m Jeff Kelm, this is MeyerFire University.
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