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Arc Flash Training: Risk management in data centres

by | Nov 8, 2016 | Engineering Design & HSE

The US National Security Agency’s vast data centre in Bluffdale, Utah is a controversial building for many reasons. The facility, which plays a central role in the American agency’s large-scale electronic surveillance and analysis activities, was built in the sparsely populated Western state to take advantage of cheap hydroelectric power. Construction of the center’s 65-megawatt electrical distribution system proved extremely troublesome. A series of arc flash incidents during commissioning delayed the project by more than a year.

Arc flash incidents occur when an uncharacteristic flow of electricity produces a rapid release of electrical energy ionising the air gap between two conductors (or metallic conducting surfaces) creating a sustainable arc. Such incidents can have a multitude of causes, including damage to insulation, the build-up of dust and contamination on conductors or errors during installation and maintenance. They are not the sole preserve of the very largest data centres, nor to the construction and commissioning phase of such projects. In fact, increased risk is an unintended consequence of many design and operating characteristics of modern data infrastructures. For example:

  • Increasingly powerful servers and higher rack densities are creating greater demand on data centre electrical distribution systems.
  • The quest for greater energy efficiency is leading new distribution system configurations, with fewer, larger transformers.
  • High service level requirements lead to an increased likelihood that operations and maintenance personnel will work on, or close to, energised equipment.

Incidents don’t just damage equipment and disrupt operations. The blast of high temperature gases and molten metal produced can also injure and kill personnel. That’s why understanding and managing arc flash risk  is a legal responsibility for data centre operators.

Effective management of electrical hazards requires a system-wide approach. It involves detailed studies to identify the risks at every point in the power distribution network, installation and proper configuration of equipment to reduce those risks, and ongoing management of the residual risks through appropriate – and rigorously enforced – operations and maintenance procedures.

To learn more about data centre arc flash training, and how GSE Systems helps clients manage those risks, download our new white paper.


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