Fire & Life Safety

Energy Storage and Fire Safety

As more of our schools “go green” and we add energy storage systems to our buildings, there are additional fire safety considerations we must be aware of. Specifically, the battery systems used to store energy come with risks. To mitigate these risks, codes and standards are now defining how we construct locations where batteries are located. This will also add to our facilities’ inspection, testing and maintenance responsibilities.

In order to create a preventive maintenance and inspection program, you should be able to review construction documents submitted for permitting. Newly constructed locations for stationary storage battery systems are evaluated according to the International Code Council Fire Code Section 608 (2018 ed.). Construction documents should include:

  • location and layout diagram for the room containing batteries;
  • details on hourly fire resistive wall, floor and ceiling assemblies including protected openings;
  • quantities and types of storage batteries and battery systems;
  • manufacturers specifications, ratings and listings of storage batteries;
  • location and content of required signage;
  • details on fire suppression, smoke detections and ventilation systems; and
  • rack storage arrangement, including seismic support criteria.

Electrical shops should be familiar with the Hazard Mitigation Analysis for battery systems. Specifically, they should be familiar with locations where more than one stationary storage battery system is provided and the potential for adverse interactions between systems. In addition, your staff should be reviewing or inspecting for:

  • thermal runaway conditions;
  • voltage surges on the primary supply;
  • short circuits on the load side;
  • failure of the smoke detection, fire suppression or gas detection systems;
  • spill neutralization materials; and
  • secondary containment systems.

Facilities staff should also review locations to ensure that battery systems are not located more than 75 feet above fire department vehicle access, that combustible materials are not stored in battery rooms, cabinets or enclosures. In rooms, work desks need to be a minimum of three feet away from battery cabinets.

Signage is required on all doors or locations near entrances to battery storage rooms. The following information must be included on signage:

  • the room contains energized battery systems;
  • the room contains energized electrical circuits; and
  • information that is specific to the types of storage batteries in the room.

The locations of electrical disconnects must be marked as well. Electricians should be able to have main disconnects within site if in the room or there needs to be placards or directories identifying the location.

If battery storage locations are located outside, the following items must be reviewed:

  • If battery systems are subject to vehicle impact, vehicle impact protection must be provided and maintained.
  • Systems must be separated a minimum of five feet from:
    - Lot lines
    - Public ways (part of egress system requires 10 feet of separation)
    - Buildings
    - Stored combustible materials
    - Hazardous materials
    - High-piled storage
    - Other exposure hazards

Outdoor locations must be secured against unauthorized entry. If battery systems are in an outdoor walk-in enclosure, the unit may only be entered for inspection, maintenance and repair. The enclosure may not be used for any other purposes.

There are additional requirements for suppression and ventilation systems. Consult with fire protection and mechanical engineers for the specifics of these systems. As you can see, as your buildings “go green”, there will be many more portions of the battery storage system location you will need to inspect and maintain in order to keep a high level of fire safety in your school.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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