Fireproof Cabinet – myths and truths

Fireproof cabinets are considered great assets; they are supposed to protect the documents, tapes and other sensitive materials from fire. Problem is while manufacturers manufacture the firesafe cabinets for specific conditions , the organization fails to consider the importance of these parameters while purchasing the firesafe cabinets – the most common mistake is buying the firesafe cabinets based on cost and to meet certain audit requirements – a big mistake. Lets understand the specifications of firesafe cabinets :

Firesafe cabinets are designed to be always fireproof ensuring that inside temperature does not rise to more than a specified value generally 350F ; at which the paper catches fire.  Firesafes are tested with exposure to temperature of 800F or more. Also the safes have a time specification and are generally tagged with class and time in hours for example a firesafe cabinet tagged as Class 350 -2hr can keep the paper safe from burning even if the cabinet is exposed to fire for approx 2 hours or more. However such safe will not be able to protect the data tapes or any magnetic storage media which generally get warped and become unusable at about 125F. A good choice can be thus a Class 125- 2hr safe which can be used to store paper as well as tapes or any other magnetic media.

Other important aspects that should be verified during audits are :

  1. Whether the firesafe is water proof ? During fire dousing by high pressure water hoses , water may enter the firesafe and destroy the papers and storage media. Also if firesafe is installed at ground floor in a flood prone area, flood water can also destroy the contents.
  2. Whether firesafe is smoke and dust proof ? During fire in a closed room, the built up pressure due to heat can push the smoke and dust into the firesafe and can cause damage to the stored media.
  3. Whether the keys are fireproof and whether a set of keys is stored off-site ? Generally firesafe cabinet keys are not fire proof and can melt away, loose shape or get lost during fire. Firesafe companies may take 7 to 10 days of time to deliver a set of duplicate keys, the operations may get stuck up because of want of keys. A good contingency planning should  ensure that a set of firesafe keys is maintained off-site.
  4. If firesafe is installed at a higher floor and is being used for storing critical data/documents , check if the firesafe specifications include “drop test”. A fire incident can lead to collapsing of floor and firesafe may fall down , crack open if it is not built for high rise buildings. Investments on such firesafe cabinets actually provide false sense of security.

Next time when you audit safe storage for backup media/paper, be on fire to audit the firesafe cabinet. Read more on Wikipedia.