Fighting Fire with Technology: When NEC Built Its New Corporate Center in Irving, Texas, Fire Protection for the 555,000-Square-Foot Complex Was a Top Priority. (Fire Safety)

By Kircher, Kent | Security Management, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Fighting Fire with Technology: When NEC Built Its New Corporate Center in Irving, Texas, Fire Protection for the 555,000-Square-Foot Complex Was a Top Priority. (Fire Safety)


Kircher, Kent, Security Management


AN ANCIENT CHINESE proverb proclaims, "Fierce fire reveals true gold." When technology-giant NEC America began to build its $100 million corporate center in Trying, Texas, the NEC fire safety team wanted a fire protection system that would shine if put to the test.

Completed in February 2001, the new Las Colinas Corporate Center includes two buildings, which total 555,000 square feet, connected by an access tunnel. The most eye-catching of the two buildings on the campus is the tower, a nine-story high-rise devoted to corporate administrative offices and technical areas.

Inside the tower is 80,000 square feet of state-of-the-art engineering, development, and testing laboratories for technology that includes telephone switchgear components and ATM equipment. The second, smaller building houses sales, marketing, customer service, and employee training facilities.

The campus boasts the latest in high-speed network communications technology, including a Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure (a local area network protocol with data transfer speeds of up to one gigabit, or one billion bits, per second) running through fiber-optic cable.

Planning stage. When planning began for the buildings in 1999, designers realized the importance of installing a comprehensive and modern fire protection system that would not only ensure the safety of the 1,200 engineers and other staff who worked there but also prevent damage to laboratories and the fragile technology contained therein. The buildings' designers worked closely with fire prevention specialists from Sumitaro Marine Insurance, NEC's insurance provider, and with Industrial Risk Insurers (IRI), which assisted with risk identification and strategic planning.

The insurance experts helped the company get started by providing the basic outline of a model fire plan, including information on how to train staff members in basic firefighting techniques and evacuation and how to plan evacuation routes. Those criteria helped the buildings' designers make initial steps toward a comprehensive fire safety plan that fit the specifics of the new buildings. The facilities and building manager also used this information in crafting the fire protection system design.

Selecting solutions. Designers needed a way to balance a fast response by an automated fire control system with a more controlled response by trained staff members at the scene. This balanced response was accomplished by using a dry-pipe system, a suppressant agent called FM-200, and intelligent smoke detectors.

Dry-pipe system. A prime requirement for NEC was ensuring adequate fire protection for all of the expensive technology housed in the center. While a water sprinkler system would be needed to safeguard the new structures, the design team was concerned that the discharge of water could cause extreme damage to equipment. In the case of a small and easily controlled fire, the damage caused by water could conceivably be more serious than that caused by the fire itself.

The first part of creating a solution to this dilemma was a dry-pipe system, where the pipes leading to the sprinklers are initially empty and charged with air, and water in the system is held behind a junction point. If an alarm occurs, the pipes must fill before the sprinklers can begin to deliver water. The short delay between the occurrence of the alarm and activation of the sprinklers offers the fire protection team an opportunity to avert damage to computers and engineering equipment as well as the potentially massive disruption involved with the time-consuming cleanup associated with unnecessary discharge of water.

In the event of an alarm, staff members have just under a minute to get to the scene and evaluate the seriousness of the emergency before the sprinklers activate; if necessary, they can override the sprinklers entirely by using an abort button (one is located in every room). …

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