Ahead of the current™
Where These’s Smoke, There’s EPO
Posted on: March 30th, 2010 by Bill

Sorry for the break everyone, but I had some trouble with my Blogspot account, now solved!

This post is about the EPO. There’s been a major shift in the industry considering EPO. Presently, the EPO is being negotiated out with the Jurisdiction or, in a longer plan, being excluded as a requirement to NEC 645. That’s all good and fine, but let’s talk about the realities of what happens when you actually have an event in the data center.

I will have to thank my brother-in-law for this musing (the esteemed Dr. Richard Swan, the potentate of retail software intentory tracking & management and an early pioneer in RFID tracking systems. Check him out at as the CTO of Retail Solutions at www.retailsolutions.com and is a way smarter engineer than I am).

One of Richard’s colo spaces suffered a planned EPO after a smoke event. And the source of that EPO was the firefighters that responded to the alarm. It occurred to me that the fear of accidental EPO drives much of the desire to remove the EPO from the data center. In this day and age, a typical EPO can be provided as an instrinsically-safe system, that is also maintainable. This is a great improvement versus the old days where the systems were not intrinsically safe and had to be dealt with hot. That pretty much will deal with that human error factor, aside from staff not following MOPs and approved sequences of work. What we’ve never tired to face is what actually happens if you get a fire department response. The response may not be a fire, but a smoke event, spill or second-stage alarm.

In the case of Richard’s space, there was a moderate smoke event in the data center. Since it was a second alarm on the fire alarm system (and a wet sprinkler that did not discharge) but not a flame event, the fire department rolled to the data center. What most folks may not know about your local FD in a non-high-rise is that the first things the fire fighters are likely to do when the arrive at an alarm is to cut all of the power to the building. And since we actually train the local FDs here, they are also smart enough to kill the generators, UPS and batteries. And afterwards, you will be dark and dead.

Folks will say this is outlandish! What you have to recall is that firefighters use water and agent to fight fires, it all being conductive of electricity. Ergo, they cut the power to avoid electrocuting themselves. Darn it, we didn’t think of that.

So while you may want to get rid of your EPO and may be successful, there may be a day when the “manual FD EPO” will come on by as a result of an alarm and take you offline.

What should you do:

  • Ramp down and/or shut off IT operations in the affected area at an alarm or FD alert.
  • Compartmentalize the DC to avoid a single point of platform, network, infrastructure or application failure in the event of a manual EPO.
  • Clarify the FD response with the Jurisdication during construction or at worst every two years.
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