NFPA 4: Fire Protection Integrated Testing Within The Data Center

NFPA 4: Fire Protection Integrated Testing Within The Data Center

The fire protection apparatus within a data center is a complex array of systems performing various functions that must operate in synergy if and when a fire emergency occurs. At any given facility, the installed systems are spread across different installation and or service vendors that may include, but are not limited to, sprinkler, clean agent, electrical, mechanical, generator, elevator and fire alarm companies. 

This number of companies require a single agent to provide management of an integrated means of “end to end” testing.  With NFPA™ 4 being an extension of NFPA 3, the updated code systematically provides a Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing”

The single agent is the designated “Integrated Testing Agent” (ITa).  The integrated testing agent shall have skills that demonstrate an experience of knowledge of integrated operations of the design, installation, operation and maintenance of the type of fire protection and life safety systems installed.¹  The ITa shall also be responsible for the planning, scheduling, documenting, coordinating, and implementing of the integrated system testing of the fire protection and life safety systems.² 




 The following are typical devices or services utilized in a data center fire protection and life safety systems:

  •    Wet or Pre-action Sprinkler
  •    Clean Agent Fire Suppression
  •    Clean agent pressure relief damper
  •    Room integrity, sealing, caulking, conduit penetrations
  •    Door fan test
  •    Purge fan and control
  •    Means of disconnect
  •    Motor operated fire/smoke dampers
  •    Fire spring loaded dampers
  •    Emergency generator and ATS
  •    Generator fuel testing
  •    Generator power distribution
  •    Hand held fire extinguishers
  •    CRAC shutdown
  •    Aisle containment detection and zone coverage
  •    FACP interface from pre-action or clean agent panel
  •    EPO circuitry
  •    Signage
  •    Emergency egress lighting
  •    Fire doors, push-bar, and accessories
  •    Card access
  •    Personnel training

The end goal of NFPA 4 is to provide a scheduled means of testing and to ultimately minimize risk.  Integrated systems testing should sufficiently stress the integration to reveal any flaws.³  It’s assuring to know if your fire protection system will function in the unfortunate time of need. The question now is when does the test have to be performed and how often. 

There are three basic times of need;

1) A newly built facility
2) An existing facility that hasn’t been tested recently 
3) Modifications/upgrades made to a recently integrated tested system

The standard does not dictate how often the testing shall be performed.  Intervals for periodic integrated systems testing should be determined based upon a risk analysis.⁴  However, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) may require integrated testing when permit inspections are performed.  Integrated testing may become standard practice for AHJ requirements.       

It is important to note that NFPA 4 applies to the entire facility and not just the data center.  This paper focuses on the data center because of the high level of business risk, continuity, and power usage thus assisting information technology and facilities professionals understand the revised standard.  Fire protection systems are a very important component within the data center and must not be overlooked.  Integrated testing provides a means to confirm the availability of all components of the fire protection system.  These systems reside in the background and hopefully will never be used.  However, testing shall be performed to assure effectiveness to protect personnel and property when the need arises. 


References: NFPA 4

1. NFPA 4; 4.3.4
2. NFPA 4; 4.4.4
3. NFPA 4; A.4.1.4
4. NFPA 4; A.6.3.2