Keeping the safeguard safe
Once the philosopher’s stone is found, how do we deal with billions of priceless covid-19 vaccines in terms of fire safety?
Never before in the history of mankind we have seen this many people, companies, scientists and researchers involved in a frantic race against the clock of this proportion.
Finding a vaccine is only the beginning
Whenever an appropriate covid-19 vaccine is developed, many more hurdles are lurking further down the road. The challenge of mass producing billions of doses in an unprecedented tight time frame will be paramount. Simultaneously with this humongous venture, the pharmaceutical industry also has to prepare for safe storage of this immense and precious cargo.
About fire risk, business continuity and specific challenges
Even though the storage of vaccines does not come with unknown fire risks, the speed and magnitude of this undertaking and - not negligible - the sensible nature to the public, call for specific and well-considered safety solutions.
The fire risk …
The main fire risks associated with the storage of the covid vaccine are…
- The fire load of the storage as such. The vaccines will be packed in plastics and carton and stored in racks. Ignition of rack storage leads to a quick (vertical) fire spread due to its configuration that enables efficient combustion (mixing of air and fire load);
- The insulation of the cooled storage areas. PIR or PUR are often preferred as insulation material, but are both combustible. Mineral wool is a non-combustible alternative, but requires a larger insulation thickness. Moreover, the insulation is typically covered by a metal sheet. This reduces the probability of ignition, but also results in fires that are very difficult to reach;
- Lack of control of ignition sources: electrical installations that are not well maintained, battery chargers in close vicinity of storage, …
The challenges …
Storage in a refrigerated environment of a cargo this specific, puts us up with some specific fire protection challenges:
- We can’t implement conventional smoke and heat extraction because of the inverse stack effect : Due to the low temperatures within the storage area the smoke will be drawn into the building
- False activation of a fixed firefighting system must be avoided at all cost due to the value of the stored goods: Contamination with sprinkler water will lead to destruction of all vaccines
- Ventilation might interfere with firefighting systems and detection systems: If ventilation blows air from the ceiling down this might delay detection and sprinkler activation significantly.
…and the solutions
Once the challenges are duly mapped, proper solutions can be developed :
- Implement an appropriately designed detection system that takes the ventilation design into account to avoid delayed detector activation.
- Let the ventilation systems shut down upon the fire detection, for that same reason
- A well engineered pre-action system that is paired to a reliable fire detection system will reduce the possibility of false activation
To anticipate and intercept eventual losses in case of emergency a continuity plan needs to be prepared that includes at least the provision of alternative stock locations and agreements with logistic partners for transportation of refrigerated goods.
Although the storage of covid-19 vaccines doesn’t bring any unknown fire risks, the protection of these storage buildings do impose some very specific challenges towards fire safety. The key is to develop an integrated fire protection system concept combined with a business continuity strategy.
FPC Risk has been providing fire risk and emergency management services to the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years now. Also in corona-times we remain the reliable partner to turn to.
Please contact Bart Joostens for more information.
Fire Risk Engineer