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Large UPS Systems. Do You Know The Risks?


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In cities and towns everywhere, business reliance on IT equipment calls for more complicated uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) to maintain electrical power when the mains fails, or the gap between a mains failure and generators kicking in.

There are a variety of different systems. Some involve stacks of heavy batteries linked together and connected via sophisticated inverters and electrical distribution equipment. If poorly maintained or worse, poorly installed, there are significant risks to fire crews. In certain cases, the power from the batteries cannot be isolated. I heard of a very serious incident (4 or 6 PF) recently where a battery stack caught alight and caused considerable difficulties for the fire crews that attended. The cause is yet to be finalised, but over-sized  fuses and  a poor maintenance inspection regime are likely to have been instrumental. For example, the battery stack in question was placed in a corner of a room, so it was not possible to inspect two sides of the stack for signs of deterioration or overheating.

There will be tens of thousands of UPS's across the UK, with many thousands in London alone.  IT hubs with bigger UPS requirements may not be in city centres, indeed, some will be in the sticks, so the risk is everywhere. Even small under desk or fridge size units will have similar risks.

But how many of you know what actions to take, and what risks may be involved?  How many of you feel competent in dealing with a fire involving a large UPS battery stack? Firefighting media? PPE? 

Do you feel you are adequately prepared/informed/trained by your employer. The LFB's information to Op crews is barely one paragraph in a larger note about electrical equipment. Is this enough?

With high voltage including DC supplies, corrosive chemicals, difficulty in isolating power (Including large capacitors which hold perhaps several hundred volts for a long period after isolation) and the collapse of the stack - they are (using a technical term) well iffy for fire service personnel

So look up what your employers note say on UPS's. If you are unhappy with what you are being told, complain but in the mean time ask Professor Google for more info

(see attached photo for an example of a UPS battery stack)



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Interesting topic Messy and one I wouldn't like to answer in full as I am not sure if we have any specific SOPs to cover this. I made a few waves asking for SOPs a few years back in respect of solar panels etc and managed to get at least some information forwarded. 

I would hope that an attendance in this type of premise would be met by someone who knows what he is talking about and hopefully the fixed installations present would be obvious and work as they should. However, as you say, sub standard installations would cause an issue. 

The post makes a good point and Im going to have a look in my area to see if we have such installations and arrange a visit. I have a large hospital on my patch and I'm fully aware of their systems, but as you say its the ones we do not know about. 

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Anywhere where there is a large data centre for starts i.e. big company, NHS trust, even police and fire service HQ type buildings will have something like this albit at a smaller scale just enough for the generators to kick in.  There are quite a few data centres for commercials use in Manchester as well as various ISP having switch sites all will have something but at different scales.

Just before I left the NHS I had a company called Borri come spec me up for something rather large (never did see it implemented), might be worth having a chat with someone like that or APC (another big name in UPS) and get their views on it.

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