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Fire Resisting Data Cabinets

INTRODUCTION


This Technical Bulletin is intended to provide guidance on the key subject of the assessment and specification of fire resisting data cabinets (alternatively referred to as fire safes).

 

PRODUCT DESIGN


A wide range of fire resisting cabinets are manufactured of various designs and with certified levels of fire resistance from 30 – 240 minutes. These are commonly employed for the secure storage of paper files and records, digital media such as USB flash drives, DVDs, external hard drives, etc. and sensitive data/magnetic media such as computer back-up tapes, diskettes and video tapes. Other vulnerable materials which may also require consideration for fire resisting storage include films, negatives and microfiche. As well as fire resisting cabinets, purpose designed diskette inserts are manufactured for additional protection (whilst diskettes or floppy discs as they are otherwise known are nowadays seldom used, the term “diskette” has been retained in European standards and by safe manufacturers).

 

A typical fire resisting data cabinet


A diskette insert


FIRE TESTS STANDARDS


Of fundamental importance is the need to recognise that paper, digital media and data degrades at different temperatures and humidity levels, factors which are embraced in the main established fire tests and certification standards.


These standards are summarised as follows:


  • BS EN 1047-1: Secure storage units – Classification and methods of test for resistance to fire - Data cabinets and diskette inserts. This is the fire test commonly applied across Europe (sometimes referred to as VDMA 24911).


Two methods of test are specified to determine the ability of fire resisting data cabinets to protect temperature and humidity sensitive contents from the effects of fire: a fire endurance test and a fire shock and impact test. Two levels of fire severity (S 60 and S 120) based upon time of fire exposure; and three protection classes (P, D and DIS) are specified using the maximum temperature increases and humidity values permitted within the storage space of the data cabinet.


Test results are referenced as follows:

            Protection Classification

         60 min

       120min

S 60 P

S 120 P

S 60 D

S 120 D

S 60 DIS

S 120 DIS

DI 60 P/DIS

DI 120 P/DIS

 

S is the symbol applied to fire resisting data cabinets and DI the symbol for diskette inserts.

The numerical values in the protection class are the duration of fire exposure during the type test in minutes; the letters characterise the types of media that can be protected in each class as follows:

 

  • P - Thermally sensitive paper documents, but excluding papers of grades which lose data below 170 °C.

  • D - Thermally and humidity sensitive media such as magnetic media and thermally sensitive documents, but excluding media which lose data below 70 °C and a relative air humidity above 85 %.

  • DIS - Thermally and humidity sensitive media such as high capacity back-up tapes and diskettes, but excluding media which lose data below 50 °C and a relative air humidity above 85 %.


Reference by the end user to temperature and humidity tolerances published by the manufacturers of the data storage devices employed should be made. A cabinet certified to DIS which offers the widest protection range is often the preferred purchase.


It is important to note that P/DIS diskette inserts only provide DIS protection when correctly installed in the appropriate P class data cabinet. Simply placing an insert into a standard filing cabinet will not provide the level of protection required.


Part of BS EN 1047-1 also involves an impact/drop test from a height of 9.1m to simulate the conditions when a building suffers collapse. This does not apply to the testing of diskette inserts.


Data cabinets and diskette inserts conforming to BS EN1047-1 are required to be marked with the protection classification which will normally be found on the inside of the door.


  • Underwriters Laboratories UL 72. This consists of a similar test regime to EN1047, but with fire resistance ranging from 30 – 240 minutes and an optional drop test.

  • Swedish Standard NT017. A similar test regime to EN 1047, but with fire resistance ratings of 60, 90 & 120 minutes. Critically no humidity criteria and no fire shock or drop tests are incorporated.

  • S 1037-12 (JIS) Fire Test. This is a Japanese fire test similar to EN 1047 for paper (P) and data (D), of ratings of 30, 60 or 120 minutes, and includes humidity and drop tests.

  • BS EN 15659: Secure storage units - Classification and methods of test for resistance to fire - Light fire storage units. As the name suggest, this is a lower grade of test suitable for paper storage only with ratings of 30 and 60 minutes. Typically employed for fire resisting filing cabinets where there are no digital media or sensitive data storage requirements.


TEST HOUSES AND CERTIFICATION


In response to market needs for a recognised one-stop-testing and certification regime for fire and security products across Europe, the European Fire and Security Group (EFSG) was founded in 1990 comprising an association of well-established certification bodes operating in the fire and security sectors. The European Certification Body (ECB-S), the certification arm of the European Security Systems Association, is a prominent member of EFSG. Test houses affiliated with the ECB-S include CNPP (France), IG (Italy), VdS (Germany) and SP (Sweden).

Data cabinets tested and certificated by an ECB-S affiliated lab will carry a special blue badge.


THEFT PROTECTION


A range of secure safes are manufactured for the dual purposes of the storage of cash/valuables and documents certified, for example, to BS EN 1047-1 and BS EN 14450: Secure Storage Units – Requirements, classification and methods of test for resistance to burglary – Secure safe cabinets (this is not to be confused with BS EN 1143 which relates to the burglary resistance of safes, ATMs and strong rooms, and employs much higher security standards).


When considering “dual protection” it is important to recognise that most fire resisting cabinets are designed to be free standing and any attempt at anchoring is likely to compromise their fire performance; therefore, consideration must be given to the wider security of the premises in which the cabinet is housed.


A fire safe or cabinet is considered suitable for an absolute maximum cash limit of £1,000. For small non-anchored lightweight fire safes Consultants will wish to recommend much lower cash limits.

 

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION


With regard to Business Interruption reporting, essential data may be backed-up and held off-site, or back-ups contained in a fire resisting data cabinet located on the insured premises.

Apart from risks very modest small exposures, off site back-up should be the normal expectation, as in the event of a loss at the insured premises, the building in which the cabinet is housed may be unstable or the building may become a crime scene with both scenarios resulting in the data cabinet being inaccessible either until the building is made safe or until the police have finished their investigations.


A combination of disciplines will often be expected where back-ups are taken daily and stored in a fire resisting data cabinet, with further weekly back-ups being held offsite.

Where a fire resisting cabinet is employed, and its use is considered significant to the risk involved, efforts should be made to determine its certified fire resistance and whether suitable for the type of media held.


In the event that the cabinet is deemed unsuitable, or the exposure dictates there is a need to specify a cabinet where none exists, the appropriate standard risk improvement wording should be employed based on a minimum 120 minutes fire resistance rating. A standard wording is also available for the specification of a diskette insert for use with an existing “P” (paper) certified cabinet.

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