Sprinkler system inspection, maintenance and testing from afar

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a surprising 20% of sprinkler system failures resulted from deficient inspection, testing, and maintenance. This comes from National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports, where cited that lack of maintenance is causing about 10% of failures and damage is the cause for about 7%.

For data centers, there are a lot of dry pipe systems that can corrode severely between five-year inspections. Piping corrosion can completely block branch piping, which would cause the sprinklers to fail and a potential total loss of a facility.

Maintenance, inspection and testing should be performed for data centers no matter if the facility is completely full or a shell waiting for equipment to be installed. With a fully operating facility, this can make the facilities operations teams nervous, from having uncleared personnel to accidental triggering. From the last year and more of the pandemic, there are leaner methods to ensure the sprinkler systems are capable of functioning correctly using remote and automated procedures.

Remote inspection and testing help to ensure that the sprinkler systems will be able to work correctly and also meets the local jurisdiction requirements as well. NFPA has a paper called “Conducting Remote Video Inspections”, produced by their Building Code Development Committee based on the overwhelming need due to the pandemic. Within it, there are clear directions that help facilitate the needs for the owner as well as the local jurisdiction. Although the NFPA has minimum requirements for the maintenance, inspection and testing, they do account for the need that each location may need to meet additional requirements.

The remote process is like any other that may show specifics of systems and facilities. There should be clear expectations and patience when beginning or doing with new technology for the first time. There should be a designated leader, whether this is the owner, tenant maintenance personnel, facility operations personnel, or a third party. They should be familiar with the technology and have reviewed the procedures to understand what the remote review should be aiming to show. In some cases, they may need to do this without a real-time connection, as many data centers will operate like a Faraday cage to prevent live viewing via the internet.

For doing the work remotely, recordings should indicate the high-level information, such as location, to ensure that the inspection can be validated to be at the correct location as well as viewing all the correct locations within. This can be critical on a data center campus, as many of the buildings will look the same as well as similar rooms, equipment, and piping throughout. Turning on the GPS can aid in this, which will also record date and time in the metadata for verification later.

Since recording this information at a data center by recording then reviewing remotely later, there may need to be an iterative process to ensure that all the systems and details needed are captured thoroughly. To compensate for a lack of expertise at the site, the remote review team should be sure to provide a comprehensive list of everything to be shown along with sketches or marked up plans with views so that the videos will be able to observe everything needed for the reviewers. Since cameras can provide a lot of detail in small areas, additional notes should be provided to ensure that the zoom or camera angles are not too close to miss the general information or too far out to miss details.

The documentation that is produced during the remote maintenance, inspection and testing should be similar to what a visiting inspector might provide. Checklists should be given to the on-site personnel to help the off-site experts to walk through to ensure that all items are covered through the process. Follow up video meetings can be key to ensuring that questions are answered and to help reduce frustration from not showing what an inspector would like to see. By uploading videos and checklists to a cloud site, the information can be updated and reviewed quickly by the many parties involved. The team can determine if there are any gaps that need to be closed by the next day, speeding up the process by giving further direction prior to the on-site team daily or even faster.

There are automated procedures as well, which were originally setup by NFPA 25 in 2017. In the standard it states that automated tests shall be permitted, which can be adopted wholly or partly by local jurisdictions. This includes components that this applies to, including: sensors; transducers; automatic and remotely controlled valves; solenoids; and alarm devices.

For the testing equipment, per NFPA prohibits any failure from affecting the sprinkler system operation. And if there is an issue, the testing equipment will signal an alarm to the supervisory system so that it is addressed in a timely fashion.

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