Data centers’ intricate design: Fire and life safety

Data centers are important structures that hold vital information for businesses, schools, public agencies, and private individuals. Fire suppression systems must be carefully designed.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer April 28, 2016


Tim Chadwick, PE, LEED AP, President, AlfaTech Consulting Engineers, San Jose, Calif.

Robert C. Eichelman, PE, LEED AP, ATD, DCEP, Technical Director, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Albany, N.Y.

Barton Hogge, PE, ATD, LEED AP, Principal, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Chapel Hill, N.C.

Bill Kosik, PE, CEM, LEED AP, BEMP, Building Energy Technologist, Chicago

Keith Lane, PE, RCDD, NTS, RTPM, LC, LEED AP BD+C, President/Chief Engineer, Lane Coburn & Associates LLC, Seattle

Robert Sty, PE, SCPM, LEDC AP, Principal, Technologies Studio Leader, SmithGroupJJR, Phoenix

Debra Vieira, PE, ATD, LEEP AP, Senior Electrical Engineer, CH2M, Portland, Ore.

CSE: What unique fire suppression systems have you specified in data centers?

Chadwick: Our most common data center design includes dual-interlock preaction fire suppression, however, in some areas we have specified a mist fire suppression system to minimize or eliminate potential water damage to expensive infrastructure elements.

Hogge: We have seen clients trending back toward more traditional solutions, opting for a double-interlock, preaction system using a nitrogen charge. Many jurisdictions require a sprinkler with an unlimited discharge, in theory, so at a minimum that cost must be invested. Using early-warning smoke detection to proactively react to an event before a fire alarm, coupled with the double-interlock scheme involving a smoke detector and sprinkler head melt, can give the client a reasonable confidence there will not be an accidental water discharge in the space.