Michigan data center fire underscores benefits of environment control systems
Monday, Apr 22nd 2013

A recent fire in eastern Michigan has decimated a county's entire IT infrastructure, illustrating the importance of environment control systems for assuring uptime and continued productivity.

On April 17, an electrical fire at the Old County Building in Mount Clemens, Mich., destroyed the  servers and IT equipment used by various government agencies in Macomb County, located approximately 30 miles north of Detroit. The Macomb Daily reported that even though county officials relied almost entirely on this data center to store data and power their communications systems, no backup plan was established. As a result, county services are expected to be down for months as officials rush to clean up the mess and get a new data center online.

"This is a team effort," county clerk Carmella Sabaugh told the news source. "The computers are down. What to do? We have to go old-school and do everything on paper."

In the aftermath of the fire, Macomb County executive Mark Hackel declared a state of emergency in order to expedite funds and speed up the recovery process. As of now, county officials do not expect operations to return to normal for many months, and the cleanup efforts will likely drain millions of dollars from public coffers, the Macomb Daily reported.

Lessons to learn from the fire
Although such an event cannot be foreseen and will have a long-lasting negative effect on the county, part of the blame for the incident rests on the facilities managers tasked with maintaining the data center's operations.

According to Data Center Knowledge, government data center disruptions have become an all-too-common occurrence. Last July, municipal operations in Calgary, Alberta, severely limited many services and forced area hospitals to delay surgeries. In both instances, government officials made the fatal mistake of assuming that "good enough" would suffice.

While data center disaster recovery has become a bigger priority in the business world of late, the Macomb County incident shows that many municipalities have yet to follow industry best practices in this regard. Among the many business continuity plans Macomb County could have leveraged prior to this incident - using a higher tier facility or backing up data with a cloud service, for example - one of the simplest preventative measures officials could have taken was to utilize environment control systems. That way, when the fire first causes internal temperature to go up and humidity levels to spike, data center facility managers would know about the incident more quickly and thus potentially been able to save some of the operations from going offline.