the site was not up to standard

The fire caused a stir in March 2021 because it affected many websites. The BEA-RI investigation report reveals that the establishment did not comply with the regulations for classified installations, which were themselves insufficient.

The fire that occurred on March 10, 2021 in the OVH data center in Strasbourg did not go unnoticed. It had not caused any victims, but had, on the other hand, affected 3.6 million websites, including some of the government, including national education services.

The Accidental Risk Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA-RI), created in December 2020 as part of the post-Lubrizol Plan, published its report on the accident at this facility on May 27. In this context, it makes recommendations to prevent future accidents and points out shortcomings in the regulations. But it also shows, between the lines, that the establishment was not in compliance with the regulations for classified installations (ICPE) and that the State services were not aware of it.

Capacity increases

While data storage facilities are not ICPEs as such, generator sets, which make it possible to compensate for a loss of electrical power from the network, and battery charging facilities are, on the other hand, classified as such. title. The operator had actually made a declaration to the prefecture, in August 2016, with a view to operating these two activities in compliance with ICPE regulations. Worry ? ” The site has evolved since that date, the construction of new buildings having increased the total thermal power of the generators and the battery charging capacity “, modestly report the authors of the report.

In other words, the operator “forgot” to declare these increases in capacity to the State services. Substantial changes which should have led to a change in the regime applicable to the establishment and the application of more stringent requirements. However, the Classified Installations Inspectorate almost no longer checks establishments subject to simple declaration, excluding complaints or… accidents. It must be said that the number of inspectors amounts to approximately 1,500 full-time equivalents for some 500,000 installations. Many classified installations, officially subject to the declaration system, are therefore not up to standard, but the State services do not intervene for all that. This accident offers a new illustration of this, after that of the NL Logistique warehouses caught in the fire of September 26, 2019, in Rouen, and whose state services were unaware of the nature of the products stored.

It emerges from this inventory that a large volume of buildings is not subject to ICPE regulations and is therefore not subject to any specific requirements in terms of fire protection.

In the case of OVH, the Classified Installations Inspectorate asked the operator, following the fire, ” an administrative update of its site taking into account all the extensions operated “. The latter applied for registration on October 28, 2021, however, requesting two changes to the applicable requirements. The prefect issued the registration order on May 10, 2022, after exempting the operator from environmental assessment and accepting its development requests. These relate to a reduction in the height of the chimneys of the generators, called to operate only in the event of an emergency, and a… narrowing of the passageways for the firefighters.

No automatic extinguishing system

The BEA-RI has identified several shortcomings and issued recommendations for the attention of the licensee, but also of the Directorate General for Prevention and Risks (DGPR), which is responsible for drafting the regulatory texts relating to the installations. classified (ICPE) within the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

« The fire started in the premises which house the batteries and the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) necessary for the operation of the servers. These rooms, also called “energy rooms”, were equipped with fire detection, but had no automatic extinguishing system. “, says the report.

« Despite the rapid arrival of emergency services, the design of the building, the absence of an automatic extinguishing system, the delay in making the site electrically safe and the water resources in the area did not prevent the general conflagration [du bâtiment] SBG2 and the spread of the fire to neighboring buildings “, conclude the authors.

As far as the operator is concerned, the BEA asks him to take into account the experience feedback from the fire, in particular in terms of ” means of detecting and fighting fire “. He also recommends ” implement, through exercises, emergency response procedures and the safety of electrical installations in order to facilitate the intervention of the public emergency services “. In this respect, the development granted by the Prefect on the requirements applicable to firefighters’ access roads seems to go against these recommendations.

hole in the racket

Compliance with the more stringent requirements imposed on the licensee would no doubt have made it possible to limit the risks, but they nevertheless appear to be insufficient, given the recommendations that the BEA is also sending to the Ministry’s departments.

As for the latter, feedback shows that protecting only the battery storage room would not have prevented the fire “, reports the BEA-RI. This therefore recommends applying the requirements relating to the fire behavior of buildings to the premises which house the electrical equipment which is used to charge the batteries and which is directly connected to them. ” This amounts to defining a charging workshop as the room that houses the batteries and also the equipment used for charging. “, explain the authors of the report.

Beyond this establishment, the BEA seems to have identified a hole in the racket regarding the fire safety of data centers. ” It appears from this inventory that a large volume of buildings is not subject to ICPE regulations and is therefore not subject, under this regulation, to any specific prescription in terms of fire protection. “, note the authors. When the building is neither an establishment open to the public (ERP) nor a high-rise building (IGH), “the major part of the building comes under, with regard to fire protection and constructive provisions, the common law regulations applicable to an industrial building with a height of less than 28 m “. Either the regulations under the Labor Code, which “ does not provide for specific requirements on the possible implementation of automatic extinguishing means ».

In other words, an operator who does not comply with the regulations, which themselves turn out to be insufficient, runs a high risk of sooner or later being confronted with a disaster. At the same time, however, the BEA-RI does not recommend classifying data centers as such because the risks they present are more economic and strategic than environmental and human.

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Article published on June 03, 2022