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Fire, Life Safety

Top design trends in data centers: fire, life safety

An increasingly data-driven society demands advanced, high-performance data center facilities. Read on to learn the biggest fire and life safety challenges, emerging technologies and upcoming trends affecting data centers.

April 30, 2019
Figure 2: In partnership with JE Dunn, SmithGroup engineers designed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, Colorado. The building's purpose is to test and deploy next-generation technologies in power production and electrical power production and electrical infrastructures. Components include what is said to be the world's most powerful computing data center dedicated to energy efficiency and renewables. Courtesy: SmithGroup


David Anderson, PE, LEED AP

Senior Mechanical Engineer, Principal

DLR Group



Drew Carré, PE

Senior Electrical Engineer

Kupper Engineering Inc.

Ambler, Pennsylvania


Terry G. Cleis Jr., PE, LEED AP

Vice President

Peter Basso Associates

Troy, Michigan


Matt Koukl, DCEP-G

Principal Project Manager, Mission Critical Market Leader

Affiliated Engineers Inc.

Madison, Wisconsin


Brian Rener, PE, LEED AP





Saahil Tumber, PE, HBDP, LEED AP

Technical Authority

Environmental Systems Design Inc.


CSE: What fire, smoke control and security features might you incorporate in these facilities that you wouldn’t see on other projects?

Carré: To reduce costs, HVAC units in separate rooms can be used as backups to each other. To prevent smoke traveling from one space to the other, addressable fire alarm systems along with smoke dampers are required to isolate the rooms from one another. It is important that separate spaces be kept separate and that failures/issues in one space do not affect the adjacent space.

CSE: How have the cost and complexity of fire protection systems involved with data centers changed over the years? How did these changes impact the overall design process?

Rener: Many years ago, data centers used both gaseous and pre-action protection systems. They also used conventual smoke detectors. Nearly all data centers now use high-sensitivity air sampling smoke detention systems and pre-action double interlocked (dry) sprinklers.