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Choosing a Fire Data Safe

Thirty percent of all businesses that have a major fire go out of business within a year. Seventy percent fail within five years.1 These frightening statistics clearly indicate a pressing need for companies to do more to protect their sensitive data than simply to invest in insurance, which is often not sufficient protection. It's not simply possessions that you need to protect, but also sensitive information that could otherwise end up in the wrong hands.

What is a fire data safe or cupboard?

The vast majority of businesses and homes now have computers and other electronic media devices. A fire data safe or a fire data cupboard (for large volume storage) is specifically designed to store not just paperwork and documents, but also vital and irreplaceable computer media and back-ups, such as 3.5" diskettes, DAT tapes, CD ROMs, Zip drives, negatives and VHS tapes. Fire data safes are suitable for any valuable plastic or man-made materials.

Computer media is more vulnerable to heat than paper documents are. Fire data safes offer greater protection from fire than fire document safes, as they maintain a temperature of 52°C or less for a specified time period. At temperatures greater than 52°C computer media can become corrupted or be destroyed.

Fire data safes range in terms of the time they will maintain this low temperature and protect your data. The fire resistance is usually given in minutes, and typically the range is 60, 90, and 120 minutes. Our best selling model, the Phoenix Datacare 2001, is rated to 60 minutes.

How is the fire resistance of fire data safes measured?

There are three types of rigorous tests performed on fire-proof data safes to measure their fire resistance.

The Fire Endurance Test involves exposing the safes to furnace temperatures during a one hour test period of 925°C, a two hour test period of 1010°C and a three hour test period of 1105°C. The safes are locked and placed in a furnace, while thermocouples fixed to the internal surfaces of the safe record any rise in temperature. Once cooled, the safe is examined for usability.

The Explosion Hazard Test simulates the safe being suddenly exposed to superheated temperatures that could cause an explosion. The safe is locked and placed into a furnace preheated to 1095°C. This temperature is maintained for the test period and if no explosion results, the unit is allowed to cool.

The Fire Drop Test measures the strength of the safe and its ability to withstand the effect of falling through a burning and collapsing building. The safe is locked and placed into a furnace preheated to 925°C. This temperature is maintained for 30 minutes before the safe is hoisted to a height of 10 metres and dropped on to a bed of rubble. The safe is then placed back in the furnace upside down for a further 30 minutes.

A fire-data safe doesn't only protect your media from fire, however. Plastic-based materials require protection from humidity as well as from high temperatures. A fire data safe offers protection against rising humidity levels and from other dangers like magnetic contamination, dust and smoke which are all potentially damaging for electronic equipment and disks.

How to choose a fire data safe

When choosing a fire data safe or fire data cabinet you need to pay extra attention to the internal dimensions to ensure that you choose a safe with enough capacity to meet your needs. Because of the demands of insulation, this type of safe is often smaller inside than you would expect when given the external dimensions.

To choose a fire data safe, you need to know:

  1. How large the safe needs to be in order to meet your needs, paying particular attention to the internal dimensions.
  2. How much fire protection is affordable within your budget.
  3. Whether you need a safe with a "cash rating".

Many fire data safes cannot be fixed or bolted down and so do not have "cash ratings." Those that do have cash ratings offer the same protection from theft as high-security safes. A cash rating gives you a good indication of how secure the safe in question is, although this rating applies only if you have installed it correctly and according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

A cash rating of £1,000 means that you can store up to £1,000 or up to £10,000 worth of valuables. This means that your insurance company should insure £1,000 in cash overnight. You always multiply the cash rating by 10 when you are storing jewellery or other non-cash items. A cash rating of £5,000 would therefore allow you to store up to £5,000 in cash or £50,000 in valuables. It is important to check with your insurance company if you have a specific high-value item that you wish to store, as they may require you're safe to have a higher cash rating than the actual cost of the item.

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