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data centers Data Center

Best Practices: Natural Disaster Readiness for Data Centers

Jacob Albers • 9/20/2022
Ensuring resiliency against the rising tide of environmental crises.

In significant swathes of the United States, the frequency and intensity of major natural disasters are increasing. In the South and the East, the EPA has noted a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes since approximately 1995. An estimated 3.3GW of data center colocation capacity fall within NOAA’s risk zone for hurricanes in the U.S. An additional 1GW of capacity under construction and 5GW in planning also fall within this risk zone.

In the West, increasing drought, heatwaves and wildfires have put pressure on a host of industries. According to National Interagency Fire Center data, the worst 10 years in history with respect to total acreage burned have all occurred since 2004, including the peak year in 2015. Meanwhile, data center development has increasingly moved to more rural areas in the West—areas that are at higher risk for wildfires. An estimated 264MW fall within areas of risk for wildfires in the Western States.

As data center developers and operators continue to expand their portfolios, what can be done to make these assets more resilient? And how should the data center industry assess site selection and data center operations in light of these increased natural disaster risks?



Study: Hurricane Harvey

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, rental generators and fuel sources necessary to keep data centers operational in the short term became almost impossible to source. Across the U.S., most available units had been dispatched to the Houston area. Additionally, as flooding became more severe, roads and transportation infrastructure were shut down and access was only available with clearance. In certain areas, the clearance was only useful if you were traveling by watercraft. As a result of the storm and its secondary effects, the nearly 70MW of total market capacity in the market at the time was placed in jeopardy.

Throughout the storm, Cushman & Wakefield’s Critical Solutions Team sourced scarce generators and consistently distributed fuel at all hours. From this experience, the Critical Solutions Team demonstrated the effectiveness of best practices that data center owners should incorporate in high-risk areas nationwide. 



Best Practices to Ensure Data Center Continuity:
  • Ensure all back-up generator maintenance is fully up to date including:
    • Oil changes
    • Batteries
    • Hoses and belts
  • Regularly exercise the generators and load banks
  • Have a fuel program contract that prioritizes your fuel delivery over non-priority sites along with pre-scheduled, regular deliveries
    • Regular fuel testing and tank assessments should be included
  • Stay alert to any potential natural disasters and coordinate with risk experts to ensure that your emergency response plan is up to date and accounts for all critical issues
    • N+1 or higher data redundancy
    • Data migration
    • Rental needs and hook-up plan
    • Standby technicians
  • Maintain a rapid response plan: taking immediate action on your emergency response plan is critical. Rental needs, fuel and skilled labor resources become difficult to source during a crisis.
  • For assets located in the highest risk flood zones, include materials and an action plan for erectable dams to encircle a data center campus.
  • For assets located in the highest risk wildfire zones, maintain a defensible perimeter around the facility. Identify adjacent parcels of high risk, such as high density of dry brush, and coordinate with property owners and local government adjacencies to reduce risk.
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