Driving data center design: Fire and life safety

In the information age, data centers can be the beating heart of not just a building, but an entire global corporation. Fire suppression systems must be carefully considered by fire protection engineers.


Andrew Baxter, PE, Principal/MEP Engineering Director, Page, Austin, TexasBrandon Kingsley, PE, CxA, CEM Project Manager, Primary Integration Solutions Inc., Charlotte, N.C.Dwayne Miller, PE, RCDD, CEO, JBA Consulting Engineers, Hong Kong


  • Andrew Baxter, PE, Principal/MEP Engineering Director, Page, Austin, Texas
  • Brandon Kingsley, PE, CxA, CEM Project Manager, Primary Integration Solutions Inc., Charlotte, N.C.
  • Keith Lane, PE, RCDD, NTS, RTPM, LC, LEED AP BD+C, President/Chief Engineer, Lane Coburn & Associates LLC, Seattle
  • Dwayne Miller, PE, RCDD, CEO, JBA Consulting Engineers, Hong Kong

CSE: What unique fire suppression or life safety systems have you specified or designed in a data center? Discuss clean agent systems, etc.

Actually, we are noticing a trend back to traditional wet and pre-action systems and fewer clean agent systems. For example, certain government agencies require wet systems because they have had trouble maintaining pre-action systems. Other owners require double-interlock pre-action systems because they do not want water sitting above the data center but do not want to incur the cost of a clean agent system. They may have found that they can bring their servers back up after they dry out without a lot of failures, or they are willing to replace those that have failed, especially if they represent a small fraction of the total. Early warning smoke detection systems are becoming the norm.

We are using more double interlocked pre-action systems for the fire protection of the critical systems and areas. We are also using dry nitrogen systems as the purge and pressure maintenance system for these dry sprinkler systems, thus eliminating the need for galvanized pipe and reducing the potential for internal pipe corrosion. The use of clean agent systems is declining significantly, and we are now seeing them used only in very specific "critical asset protection" type installations such as tape or document storage areas. Because most jurisdictions don't recognize the clean agent system for life safety purposes, the sprinkler systems are still required and thus the clean agent becomes somewhat redundant and is a cost many owners no longer want to have.

CSE: How have the costs and complexity of fire protection systems changed in recent years?

If anything, we are seeing the cost and complexity of the fire protection systems decreasing over the last few projects. By minimizing the use of the clean agent systems and using black steel pipe with the active nitrogen corrosion protection systems, the overall cost of these systems has gone down.

I think we are seeing more traditional systems and fewer clean agent systems due to their higher costs and more complex construction requirements.

Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
How to use IPD; 2017 Commissioning Giants; CFDs and harmonic mitigation; Eight steps to determine plumbing system requirements
2017 MEP Giants; Mergers and acquisitions report; ASHRAE 62.1; LEED v4 updates and tips; Understanding overcurrent protection
Integrating electrical and HVAC for energy efficiency; Mixed-use buildings; ASHRAE 90.4; Wireless fire alarms assessment and challenges
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
Transformers; Electrical system design; Selecting and sizing transformers; Grounded and ungrounded system design, Paralleling generator systems
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; VFDs in high-performance buildings
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me