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University Suffers Data Centre Fire

The fire alarm in one of the Member’s data centres was activated at 4.10am on Sunday 22 August. The alarm had been activated by smoke triggering an aspirating smoke detector in the data centre. The fire brigade attended and extinguished the fire, although we were surprised at their apparently poor response time. Whilst some equipment had been damaged by heat from the fire, far more equipment was damaged by smoke and soot. Thankfully, the fire had been extinguished without the use of water, so there was no water damage to equipment.

A forensic investigation into the cause of the fire was undertaken. It was established that the fire had started in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A UPS is a cabinet full of batteries, which supplies back-up power to equipment when the mains power fails. On this occasion, it was established that a single battery within the UPS had failed, resulting in a short-circuit and subsequent ignition. The precise nature of the failure has not been ascertained, but has been narrowed down to either a short-circuit within the battery or a split in the battery case, allowing acid to leak onto the metal shelf and set up a short-circuit.

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