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One company's success with HPR.

FOR TODAY'S RISK MANAGERS, the idea of effective sprinklers and non-flammable cardboard is something to be taken for granted. It seems inconceivable that there was once a time when companies protected warehouses against fire with no more than a fire extinguisher. In the early 1970s. however, when Digital Equipment Corp., a manufacturer of computers and components, was developing their highly protected risk (HPR) standards. the company found they were unusual in their concern for heightened warehouse fire safety. Digital's warehouses, up to 100,000 sq. ft. each, house stock valued at $100 million to $300 million - an obvious high risk in need of protection. The combination of highvalue plastics products with highly flammable foam packaging was a potential nightmare.

The nightmare became reality several years ago when a regional service center in London went up in flames. Digital was the sole tenant of that warehouse and they lost nearly $10 million. The company turned to Factory Mutual Research Center (FMRC) to secure HPR status with their insurer and protect their warehouses from destruction.

FMRC put together a fire test to determine how fast and how hard Digital's products could bum. They stacked 24 pallet loads of disc racks three tiers high and ignited them. Within two minutes, the flames were 25 ft. high. Within four minutes, they were 55 ft. high. FMRC repeated the test under standard sprinklers and amazingly the sprinklers did not effectively contain the fire. The flames were so hot and so high that they could have weakened a steel ceiling, leading to collapse.

Clearly there was a problem. Speaking at the 25th anniversary commemoration of FMRC's test center, Don Crowley, former Digital corporate loss prevention manager, explained how his company came to realize there was a problem. "We thought we could walk on water; the FMRC tests showed otherwise." FMRC determined that there were two possible solutions: Either Digital needed to improve sprinkler protection or reduce the flammability of its packaging materials.

In search of better sprinklers, Digital discovered that the sprinkler styles that were available were not prime options. Old-style in-rack sprinklers were cumbersome and prone to accidents; they inhibited the ability of warehouse employees to move stock because they were not flexible. Then FMRC developed fast response large drop sprinklers and tried them on a repeat of the Digital test - they put the fire out within 50 seconds. These sprinklers, designed to put out high-challenge storage fires with significantly larger water droplets to more effectively penetrate a fire, were installed in many of Digital's warehouses. The fast response sprinklers were the predecessor of the Early System-Fast Response (ESFR)s, which are now considered the most effective sprinklers available. The ESFRs are intended to suppress rather than just control a fire. More water makes it to the fire rather than spraying outward or at the ceiling. Over the past two years, five of Digital's warehouses have been retrofitted with the ESFRs, which replace the interim-step fast response sprinklers that had previously been installed, Digital has continuously updated its warehouses with the most effective fire suppression equipment available. In response to those who might think it difficult to continuously retrofit warehouses with expensive sprinklers, Ron Lamb, corporate risk manager for Digital, says he "never encountered any resistance from the insurer or Digital."

When Digital went in search of low flammability packaging material, they again ran into an obstacle: they discovered that none existed. With the assistance of FMRC, Digital worked to develop low combustibility foam packaging and paper of low flammability for corrugated cardboard packaging that were subsequently approved by FMRC's product approvals department.

All of this of course demonstrates to Digital's insurer, Arkwright, that the company has taken the right steps to ensure its HPR status. "Current fire risks are now considerably lower than ever," according to Mr. Crowley. Premiums are kept to a reasonable level and the safety of Digital's stock and warehouse employees is increased. Digital is currently hard at work on non-flammable plastics with low smoke development.

What has HPR status meant to Digital? According to Mr, Lamb, "HPR status is inextricably interwoven with the company's philosophy of providing total overall quality. HPR status has helped the company avoid deadly service interruptions." Now Digital doesn't just fight fire with water, they are walking on water once again.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Digital Equipment Corp.; highly protected risk
Author:Kehl, Joyce
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:715
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