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Critical Facility Fire Suppression Options
August 30, 2011
When it comes to protecting critical spaces like data centers from damage caused by electrical fires, facilities used to have the option of Halon systems. But once it was known how damaging Halon is to the ozone layer, these systems were phased out. Replacement tanks can still be purchased to supply existing Halon systems, but new Halon systems cannot be installed.
This leaves the Halon alternatives for fire suppression in critical spaces like data centers. Halon alternatives generally fall into two categories: clean agent systems, many of which use halocarbons, and inert gases. Clean agent systems extinguish fires by removing heat from them. Inert gases essentially suffocate the fire by depriving it of oxygen.
When considering Halon alternatives it is important to keep several issues in mind. One is space. Inert gas systems use a higher concentration of gas to extinguish a fire than halocarbon systems, so they require more storage space.
One thing to weigh with halocarbons is their potential environmental impact, particularly with regard to ozone depletion. In addition, once the halocarbon agent can make the air very corrosive once discharged, which can damage equipment. Different halocarbons have different environmental properties, so it's up to facility managers to decide which are a better fit for their facility and organization.
Enclosure is another factor to ensuring a Halon alternative fire suppression system works properly. The room has to stay tight to maintain the required concentration of the fire suppressant, both in the case of an inert gas or a clean agent. When the room's enclosure must be compromised, such as by cutting a hole in the wall to pass wires through, these must be properly sealed back up.