Data centers present a unique fire protection challenge. Their function is vitally critical to a healthy, efficient business. Any down time can be a death blow to business continuity. For this reason, water in sprinkler piping is a worry that keeps mission critical mangers from sleeping at night. Finding an effective fire protection solution that minimizes the use of water as an extinguishing agent is often a paramount concern. This is why pre-action sprinkler systems are often used in data centers. But pre-action systems alone may not be the best option.
Sprinkler systems are designed for life safety and building protection. They are not designed to protect sensitive electronic equipment. Sprinkler heads require heat, a good deal of heat, to activate. It is estimated that by the time the fusible element in a 165° sprinkler head activates the temperature at the room ceiling is near 600°. At that point the survivability of electronic equipment is lost. A pre-action sprinkler system is a dry sprinkler system controlled by smoke detectors. Activation of the detectors initiates an alarm; a sprinkler head would still need to fuse for water to be delivered to the fire. In short, response time is increased for a pre-action system.
There are other factors to consider. Pre-action systems are more complex than wet pipe systems. Sprinkler systems discharge 20-40 gallons of water per minute (think of the water damage that might cause). They have higher installation and maintenance costs. They have design limitations when compared to wet pipe systems. They are also subject to corrosion problems. It’s very difficult to keep pre-action systems completely moisture free. The presence of moisture (along with oxygen) causes corrosion in sprinkler piping. Wet pipe systems, which are always full of water, are much less susceptible to corrosion as the amount of oxygen is much lower.
This begs the question: What is the best fire protection solution for mission critical facilities with sensitive electronic equipment? It’s not a pre-action or wet pipe sprinkler system by itself. Since most fire marshals require sprinkler coverage in all buildings, the answer is the “belt and suspenders” approach. Installing sprinkler systems in tandem with clean agent suppression systems provides the best of both worlds. The clean agent system is controlled by smoke detection only. It is fast, discharging when the smoke detectors sense smoke, extinguishing the fire long before sprinkler systems (and long before major damage and downtime). A sprinkler system, whether wet pipe or pre-action, is there to provide building and life safety protection. Since there is no single answer for all data centers, please call Fireline Corporation for a professional evaluation of your facility.