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  Software Industry

Software industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world at the moment. There is no serious discussion necessary in respect of software in relation to the process employed since the activity involved does not any industrial process or manufacturing. The main risk is therefore limited to the use of computers, peripherals and other data processing equipments.

Loss Exposures

Computer rooms are a common sight in industrial plants, laboratories and office buildings. With their normally high level of cleanliness and controlled atmosphere, they tend to present an innocuous and misleading appearance from the fire protection standpoint. Thoughtful evaluations and accumulated loss experience, however, have demonstrated the need for considerable concern over the proper protection of these facilities. High value is one reason for this concern. Property damage values in computer rooms may be as high as 50 times that of manufacturing or warehousing areas. With such concentration in a limited area, it is imperative that any fire be quickly detected and extinguished. Susceptibility to damage is a second reason. While, in most cases, components of computers are not highly combustible, certain items will bum if subjected to a sufficiently high heat source. Circuit boards have been ignited by overheated resistors or capacitors and their vertical and horizontal stacking arrangement in multiple trays can then lead to rapid progressive spread of fire within an enclosure. Large amounts of internal or external wiring can also initiate or contribute to active combustion. Plastic tape reels or containers are ready sources of fuel, along with the sizable quantities of paper associated with high speed printers. But the important feature in loss analysis is recognition that the computers need not become actively involved in a fire to suffer damage;

Heat

Computer equipment is unusually vulnerable to heat damage. Around 150F(66C), loss of information is likely to occur; above 200F(93C), serious distortion of tape reels, disks, cassettes, and drums will take place; and between 300F(149C) and 500F(260C), irrevocable damage will be caused to computer components, requiring total replacement. Finally, between 650F(343C) and 750F(399C), plastic cases, components in the computer systems and reels, tapes, diskettes, etc. will degrade, producing flammable monomers such as styrene.

Smoke

Smoke particles deposited on terminals and circuit boards can lead to erratic computer behaviour. Deposited on tapes, disks, cassettes or drums, such particles can result in incomplete or incorrect translation of information. While the condition may be correctable, the necessary cleaning can involve considerable downtime.

Products of Combustion or Decomposition

Along with particulate matter, fire or electrical heating can produce corrosive gases. Of special concern are the large quantities of hydrogen chloride gas evolved during the breakdown of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) insulation. Combining with moisture in the surrounding air and from the combustion process, this gas becomes hydrochloric acid, a strongly corrosive agent which attacks terminals, solder circuitry and electronic components.

Risk Management

Due to dependence of businesses on computers and electronic equipment, the importance of fire protection cannot be overemphasized. This includes security measures because computers can be attractive targets for arson and sabotage. The introduction of remote workstations further hinders the security of the mainframe computer room. Because of the immense cost of large computer systems as well as space considerations, providing remote hot sites or even libraries of all records and data may seem economically impossible. Yet, only this can ensure continued operations in the event of a catastrophe. Custom-building a system for its applications compounds the problems of restoration because no compatible replacement will be available. Even so, many companies enlist partners to share the cost of hot remote sites.

As mainframe computer systems and electronic data equipment are expensive, sensitive to damage and often critical to operations, they should be installed in specifically designed areas. These areas provide security, fire protection and a controlled environment. Such installations may be located in computer rooms adequately separated from other parts of the building or even in separate structures. Local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) commonly use hot mainframes from remote locations.

Main frame computer rooms should be separated from other occupancies with walls having a 2 hour rating. Approved type fire doors should be fixed in the walls and shutters & dampers in the air ducts. The computer room should not be located above, below or adjacent to areas housing hazardous processes, unless reliable protective separation is provided. These rooms should be of non-combustible fire resistive construction with non-combustible interior finish. Most fires damaging computer rooms do not originate in the specialized equipment itself. These fires originate in and from the ordinary equipment exposing the computer room. Rooms for related necessities such as programmers, maintenance, paper supplies, recorded data, super printers should be separated from the computer equipment room. Only the computer and electronic equipment and necessary auxiliary equipment should be permitted in the computer rooms.

With the popularity of PCs and their tolerance for various controlled environments, mainframe computer rooms can be smaller, better protected and more secure. Small offices of supervisors or operators strictly related to electronic equipment may be located in the computer room. Combustible materials should be kept at minimal levels. Service transformers, motor generator sets, switchgear, and battery backup should not be permitted.

Periodic inspections and maintenance of under floor space are required to eliminate the accumulation of combustibles. One major problem identified with an under floor area is that unused wire and cable equipment accumulates as equipment is relocated and updated. This material adds excessive potential fuel for a fire in the form of wire insulation and connectors. A cable management program should be applied to all under floor areas. Mainframe computers are generally installed on raised floors that have electrical wiring. These raised floors serve as air handling plenums. The floors, including structural support, should be concrete, steel, aluminum or some other noncombustible material. Openings on raised floors for cable penetration should be kept minimal to prevent debris and other combustibles from collecting beneath the floor. Carpeting should be avoided on raised floor systems.

Supplies for paper and repair services shops should be strictly limited to the minimum needed for efficient operation and preferably located outside the computer room. Waste paper should be disposed of in waste disposal units.Records generated by the electronic computer system should be -protected according to their importance and difficulty to reproduce.

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