Security or safety – it’s all the same in German

Even in the most modern data centers you can often find a glaring omission when it comes to electrical safety, and that is the lack of comprehensive arc-flash protection.

When you learn a foreign language, one of the most common stumbling blocks – other than tying your tongue into knots when pronouncing some of those strange letter combinations – is the fact that the foreign idiom you are attempting to master uses different words for what would be a single word in your mother tongue.  Take the Saami language of northern Scandinavia as an example: according to a 2006 study it has more than 1000 words for reindeer.

What does the Saami language’s diversity on the subject of reindeer have to do with data centers? On recent visits to some very modern data centers it occurred to me that in my German mother tongue we use the same word for “security” and “safety”: “Sicherheit.”  Touring these state-of-the-art facilities made me wonder why most everyone is concerned about security in data centers while safety does not seem to get quite the same amount of attention. Whether it is restricting access to the white space or backing up data or ensuring the highest levels of availability, data center operators rarely spare any expense to guarantee the uncompromised security of their data.

Sure, many data centers are for the most part remotely operated and access to the electrical rooms is restricted, so personnel safety is generally at a high level.  But even in the most modern data centers you can often find a glaring omission when it comes to electrical safety that personally leaves me with a strong desire to immediately exit the electrical room, and that is the lack of comprehensive arc-flash protection.  Just watch this short video clip below to understand my concern:

On the left conventional non-arc-resistant switchgear is arc-fault tested, on the right you can see ABB’s arc-resistant design under the same conditions.  As you can imagine, your chances of surviving an internal arc fault when standing in front of the non-arc-resistant switchgear are slim to none.  But even in an unmanned installation, think how this fireball is likely to destroy all adjacent equipment in the electric room, such as synchronizing and control panels, PDUs, your UPS and so on.  Beyond losing just one feeder, an internal arc can easily wipe out your entire electrical distribution system, causing extensive downtime and possibly even that dreaded breach of data security.  Yet, this technology is still commonly used in data centers around the globe.

Compare this with ABB’s arc-resistant switchgear design on the right – you can clearly see the difference:  personnel safety is ensured even without special personal protective equipment, surrounding equipment escapes unscathed and the switchgear itself can be easily repaired and quickly put back into service. If you think that arc flash is such an unlikely occurrence that it’s not worth worrying about, think again. OSHA statistics show that, in North America alone, one to two fatalities result from five to 10 arc-flash incidents–every single day!

ABB has been pioneering arc-resistant technology and offers a broad portfolio of low-, medium- and high-voltage switchgear with industry-leading arc-flash protection.   Regardless of whether your own language uses the same word or two different words, why would you insist on uncompromised (data) security while neglecting (electric) safety?

For more information on ABB’s arc-resistant switchgear offering, please visit

Image courtesy of Graphic Products

Categories and Tags
About the author

Lutz Boettger

I am globally responsible for Data Centers & Infrastructure in the Low Voltage Systems business unit and also head its North American operations. For the past three years my home base has been Chicago, but quite honestly the place I know best in this great city is its O'Hare Airport. My major likes are diversity and innovation, my major dislikes are ignorance and arrogance (in particular when combined).
Comment on this article