Fire Recovery Best Practices: First 24 Hours

Fire LogoBy: Lisa Nadile

Here’s how to fight back in your worst-case scenario: a fire in your data center.

Fire happens all the time. An electrical discharge, a dumb employee, a malfunctioning piece of equipment can waylay all your careful planning. But if you are prepared for a fire in your data center, you’ll be ready for action in the first 24 hours. The NFPA 75, Standard for the Protection of Information Technology Equipment provides a bare bones list of suggestions in one of its Annexes.

First, count yourself lucky. In most cases, you have the technology for a mirror site and your tape backup cartridges are small enough for your entire backup to fit under your arm. You can hire companies that specialize in fire disaster recovery to come on site to help with clean up, or you can send equipment to laboratories for analysis.

But if you can’t afford or do not have the time for this, there are steps you can take. Do these as soon as you can after the fire event.

Shut off the power to the data island. Now you can get to work.

Working Your Emergency Plan

After a fire or water-related disaster, you can snap right into action because you will have already created a written disaster plan. Yes. You did. Right?

Your plan contains a strategy for operating your business in light of any disaster. It has a designed workload and an analysis of how this affects your employees. You know where the backup files are, which are needed, and the equipment necessary to operate them. The time it takes to configure these files and the equipment needed were taken into account. Your backup processing locations are buzzing with activity as are the telecommunications at the backup site. You can transfer staff back and forth to locations as needed, and all forms and paperwork for directly maintaining your business are prepared.

With that plan in action (or with sighs and recrimination underway, should you somehow not have a prepared disaster recovery plan) you can turn your attention to rescuing some equipment.

“If you do the visual inspection and look for any indication of soots and combustion residue, that’s how you can start,” says Brian Rawson, senior program manager for Installation Planning with IBM.

Smoke Damage

It’s important to act quickly.

While a short exposure to smoke will not damage your equipment, prolonged exposure to smoke containing chloride and sulfur causes corrosion. It contains an active by-product that will corrode metal connectors, according to NFPA 75.

“There is a level at which equipment that has been damaged from a fire can be cleaned. You can get a deposit on surfaces that is acidic and moist. It affects the printed circuit boards and their connections to devices, and the combination of water vapor and products of combustion makes various acids,” says Ralph Transue, senior consultant for Ralph Jensen and Associates and current chair of the NFPA 75 committee.

To clean this byproduct, move the equipment to an air-conditioned area with 40 to 50% humidity to slow the corrosion process, or at least seal off the equipment area. Do not cover the equipment because you could trap moisture.

Next, spray the connectors, backplanes, and printed circuit boards with Freon or an approved alcohol-based solvent, advises the standard.

Then spray the areas with a corrosive-inhibiting spray to halt further damage.

The equipment is ready for the analysis of the smoke contamination and proper decontamination.

“You can take those components and send them to our materials lab and they’ll analyze it and they’ll come back and say, ‘Oh it’s just inert matter’ or ‘It’s concrete dust’ or ‘It’s got conductive properties and the equipment should be cleaned and in the worst case, scrapped,’” says Rawson.

Water Damage

NFPA 75 is extremely optimistic about equipment that has gotten wet. It advises that with the proper treatment, you even can save equipment that has been submerged – if you act quickly.

First, drain the equipment and its storage containers as quickly as possible. Set up fans or move equipment to air-conditioned areas. Use compressed air to blow out as much water as possible from the equipment.

Second, begin the drying process. Apply hand-held dryers on the lowest setting to connectors, backplanes, wirewraps, and printed circuit cards, says NFPA 75. Using cotton-swabs for tight areas is fine everywhere but wirewrap terminals.

Third, the standard advises water displacement aerosol sprays for critical components.

The equipment is then ready for professional restoration if necessary.

Media Recovery/

Tape and disk drives require thorough cleaning before use as they can cause further damage. Restoring media tape itself is possible if it is removed from its containers and dried thoroughly. NFPA 75 advises wiping the exterior surfaces with an alcohol or Freon-alcohol solution to remove contamination. You then can attempt data recovery on floppy disks, tapes, hard disks, and other read/record equipment, according to the standard.

Temperature Considerations

Here’s a checklist of temperature-related information to keep in mind.

  • Damage to IT equipment can begin at a sustained temperature of above 175 degrees F
  • Damage to magnetic tapes, flexible discs, and similar media can begin at a sustained temperature of 100 degrees F. Media can typically be reconditioned if it has not had at a sustained temperature over 120 degrees F
  • Damage to disc media can begin at a sustained temperature of above 150 degrees F
  • Damage to paper can begin at a sustained temperature of above 350 degrees F
  • Damage to microfilm can begin at a sustained temperature of 225 degrees F in the presence of steam and 500 degrees F if there is no steam

Original Article Publication can be found here:

About Jason Roth

Jason Roth is a nationally-recognized expert in the contamination control and critical environment consulting industry. Since 1988, he has provided consulting services and support to thousands of leading corporations in the US and overseas.

He is a member of the IEST (Institute of Environmental Science Technology), is SSTA (Southwest Safety Training Alliance) Certified, is a Certified Trainer by the Environmental Institute in Lead Abatement, is NCI (National Comfort Institute) Certified for air testing/balancing/certification, was a key speaker at Technology Day in Detroit, has presented at the Uptime Institute (for Data Center enhancements), is a regular at the Cleanrooms West Conference, is a cleanrooms protocol trainer and developer, and has published numerous well-known white-papers in the industry.