NFPA Standards Specifically Cover IT Equipment, Telecom

ASK THE EXPERT By Jonathan R. Hart

Jonathan R. Hart, Associate Fire Protection Engineer with the National Fire Protection Association, is responsible for documents addressing information technology equipment, telecommunication facilities, wet and dry chemical extinguishing systems, explosion protection, commercial cooking systems, fire safety and emergency symbols, and water mist fire protection systems. Hart holds a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and is finishing work toward an M.S. degree in Fire Protection Engineering.

What fire and life safety codes relate to a mission-critical facility?

NFPA 75, Standard for the Protection of Information Technology (IT) Information Equipment, and NFPA 76, Standard for the Fire Protection of Telecommunications Facilities, are the standards that pertain specifically to the protection of IT equipment, IT equipment areas, and telecom facilities. The rest of the facility will be designed to the applicable codes and standards for hazards other than fire and life safety.

The purpose of NFPA 75 is to set forth the minimum requirements for the protection of IT equipment and IT equipment areas from damage by fire or its associated effects, namely smoke corrosion, heat, and water.

Chapter 4 of the standard addresses Risk Consideration. It states in section 4.1 that “the following factors shall be considered in determination of the need for protecting the environment, equipment, function, programming, records, and supplies: (1) Life safety aspects of the function (e.g., process controls, air traffic controls), (2) Fire threat of the installation to occupants or exposed property, (3) Economic loss from the loss of function or loss of records, (4) Economic loss from value of the equipment, (5) Regulatory impact, and (6) Reputation impact.”

The following chapters address building construction, materials and equipment permitted in the IT equipment area, the construction of IT equipment, fire protection and detection equipment, records kept or stored in IT equipment rooms, utilities, and finally, emergency and recovery procedures.

NFPA 76 provides the requirements for fire protection of telecom facilities where telecom services such as telephone (landline, wireless) transmission, data transmission, voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) transmission, and video transmission are rendered to the public. Telecom facilities include signal-processing equipment areas, cable entrance facility areas, power areas, main distribution frame areas, standby engine areas used to run standby power, technical support areas, administrative areas, and building services and support areas occupied by a telecom service provider.

The purpose of the standard is to provide a reasonable level of fire protection in telecom facilities, to provide a reasonable level of life safety for the occupants, and to protect equipment and service continuity. NFPA 76 is intended to avoid requirements that could involve unnecessary complications for or interference with the normal use, occupancy, and operations of telecom facilities and equipment.

Chapter 4 of this standard also addresses Risk Considerations. Section 4.1 Risk Factors reads:

Fire protection programs for telecommunications facilities shall be determined based on an evaluation of the risks and hazards associated with the site and services provided from the facility and the business continuity planning and disaster restoration capabilities of the telecommunications service provider specific to the site.

4.1.1 Fire protection programs shall be established with consideration given to the following factors:

(1) Exposure threat to facility occupants, the general public, and exposed property from a fire occurring at, adjacent to, or within the facility.

(2) The importance of telecommunications service continuity in supporting public safety through emergency communications (such as 911), national defense communications requirements, video transmission of critical medical operations, and other vital data.

(3) Methods employed by a service provider, as part of a risk management or business continuity strategy, that allow service to remain viable during and after an event or to be replaced or restored within a reasonable period post-event.

(4) The potential for a given protection strategy to result in a service disruption or inhibit the ability of the service provider to restore service in a timely manner post-event.

Section 4.2 of the standard continues with this method of characterizing the risk considerations in order to provide the most suitable design.

The following three chapters address performance-based design approaches, prescriptive-based design approaches, and redundant-or-replacement-based design approaches, respectively. The subsequent chapters detail the requirements for fire protection elements, fire prevention, pre-fire planning, damage control, and emergency recovery.

“If you think of how many of our work and personal records, everyday use files and information are accessible online through centralized data repositories, you can quickly see the importance of NFPA 75.”
Jonathan R. Hart, Associate Fire Protection Engineer, NFPA

Please explain the significance of NFPA 75 and 76.

These documents have and continue to become more and more important as society grows reliant on what these documents are designed to protect. If you think of how many of our work and personal records, everyday use files and information are accessible online through centralized data repositories, you can quickly see the importance of NFPA 75. Likewise, information sent via telephone, Internet and similar transmission methods bring to bear the need to keep the routes that information travels up and running, which is a main goal of NFPA 76.

A small sampling of what is protected by NFPA 75 and NFPA 76 includes data storage/retrieval systems, ranging from criminal and medical records, financial records and transactions, insurance and legal records, and registration databases. Data processing systems are protected, including background checks, prescription compatibility, weather modeling, and defense systems, among other critical information. Data communications that are protected include wired-line, wireless (GSM, WiFi, etc.), satellite, radio, Internet, cable, and air traffic control.

What are common elements of these standards that overlap with mission-critical facilities?

Both NFPA 75 and 76 contain a Chapter 4 titled “Risk Considerations,” as stated above. These risk considerations employ an analysis of the risk factors involved both from a fire as well as from an accidental failure of the protection strategies. The overall design of these facilities is required to consider such risks and the total impact of downtime.

In addition, each of these standards requires the facilities to have an emergency fire plan, a damage control plan, and emergency recovery procedures.

How do the standards apply to different areas within a mission-critical facility?

NFPA 75 only applies to the protection of IT equipment and IT equipment areas. The rest of the facility will be designed to the applicable codes and standards.

NFPA 76 simply requires that telecom facilities be separated from the rest of the building by two-hour fire resistance-rated partitions. The standard contains additional conditions for telecom facilities housed in multiple tenant buildings that require either specific building construction types AND require automatic suppression, or limit them to one story.

How do the standards address instances that go beyond traditional fire detection?

NFPA 75 requires the installation of automatic detection equipment to provide early warning of fire. This needs to be a listed smoke detection-type system installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. The automatic detection systems are required to be located at ceiling level throughout the IT equipment area, below raised floors containing cables, and above suspended ceilings that recirculate air.

NFPA 76 requires Very Early Warning Fire Detection (VEWFD) for rooms containing over 2,500 square feet of signal-processing equipment areas and Early Warning Fire Detection (EWFD) systems for facilities containing less than 2,500 square feet of signal-processing equipment. Raised floors require fire detection depending on their use and the detection used in the area above them. The standard requires that EWFD and VEWFD use sensors or ports with spacing that is less than normally required by NFPA 72. Specific requirements for each type of detector are contained in Section 8.5 of the standard.

Which emerging topics affect safety considerations in these facilities?

Trends that are driving some of the changes that occur in NFPA 75 and NFPA 76 protected facilities include increasing power densities, which produce greater amounts of heat and therefore require increased amounts of airflow through these areas for cooling. The movement toward making buildings more environmentally friendly is leading to innovative HVAC solutions to increase system energy efficiencies. A demand for faster speed of product from concept to market creates issues in keeping on top of the newest technologies. In general, information technology equipment and telecommunication facilities change at a very fast rate. This creates some challenging issues in determining exactly what is being used, what arrangements are being used, and how these can be protected.

The nature of electronic data and the potential for the important use of that data leads to an ever increasing “critical” nature of these services. The need for some combination of physical protection, detection and alarm, use of appropriate suppression systems, redundancy and a higher-than-average level of reliability for system performance results in improved chances of continuity of operations when something goes wrong and access to important data when it is needed.

For more information on NFPA Codes and Standards, including NFPA 72®, NFPA 75® and NFPA 76®, visit

NFPA 72®, NFPA 75® & NFPA 76® are registered trademarks of the National Fire Protection Association.

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