Data Centers and SPCC Plans: The Quick Version

Written By: Dennis Ruhlin | Jun 28, 2024

Time to Read 12 Minutes

Data Centers and SPCC Plans: The Quick Version
12:17




Stay in Compliance with SPCC Regulations at Your Data Center

Running a data center involves juggling many responsibilities, and keeping up with environmental regulations is a big one. After all, it's not easy to achieve environmental excellence at a data center!

Among the various regulations covering a data center, SPCC (Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure) regulations are crucial to adhere to - but can sometimes feel like just another item on the endless to-do list.

Sound familiar? Let’s break down what SPCC regulations are, why they matter for data centers, and how our annual SPCC training course can make compliance a breeze.

What are SPCC regulations?

You might be thinking, “SPCC—what’s that"? We defined it above (Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures). In short, SPCC regulations are federal rules from the EPA designed to prevent oil spills from contaminating our waterways.

If your data center stores significant amounts of oil, think diesel fuel or transformer oil, these rules require you to have an SPCC plan for your facility. These are facility-specific documents designed to help you in the event of a spill or leak of those oil products.

Think of it as a manual on how to use a safety net to stop spills before they cause problems for everyone.

If you're already scratching your head and think you might need a hand here, you may want to contact an environmental expert for data centers or consider a data center environmental audit to ensure you're on the right track.

data center employee in a server room reading out of an orange binder

Key Elements of an SPCC Plan

An SPCC might sound like a daunting technical manual to get through, but it really boils down to three main elements:

  1. Prevention Measures: These are your first line of defense—things like secondary containment systems and regular inspections to stop spills before they start.
  2. Control Measures: If a spill does happen, control measures kick in. This includes using absorbent materials and spill kits to contain the mess, and instructions on who to notify about the spills, from management to the government.
  3. Countermeasure Strategies: Finally, if a spill does occur, countermeasure strategies outline how to clean it up and reduce environmental impacts, ultimately keeping your data center up and running with minimal downtime or interruptions.

Now, there are a host of ongoing compliance items that you'll need to check off in order to stay in good standing with your SPCC plan (we cover them in our Complete Guide to SPCC Plans for Data Centers), but for now, just know that SPCC plans are aimed at preventing spills, controlling them if they occur, and enacting countermeasure strategies to mitigate their damage.

Why SPCC Regulations Matter for Data Centers

Wondering why this is important for data centers? We hear it a lot!

Think back to the oil. You have generators on-site, right? Generators are primarily fueled by one of two fuels - gases and fluids. If you have a generator running on natural gas, that doesn't count towards what we're discussing here.

But, if you have generators that run on diesel, and/or transformers storing transformer oil, then SPCC regulations can kick in. If you store enough oil (1,320 gallons in 55-gallon drums or larger-sized containers), the EPA’s SPCC rules apply to you. There are a few other technicalities, but figure as a baseline, if you have over 1,000 gallons of oil on-site, you should be paying attention to these regulations (especially since a transformer or two can easily push you over the magic number of 1,320!).

If you have a couple diesel generators and/or transformers on site, you can easily store over 1,320 gallons - and if you have over 1,320 gallons, then you need an SPCC plan. If you're unsure whether or not your facility needs an SPCC plan, it's best to reach out to an environmental expert for data centers for guidance.

Ignoring these regulations can lead to hefty fines, legal issues, and even operational shutdowns. Nobody wants that, right?

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Unique Challenges for Data Centers

Even though oil and fuel storage is a fairly common practice at various industries across the globe, data centers within the United States have their own set of challenges when it comes to SPCC compliance:

  • High Equipment Density: With so much equipment packed into a small space, spill prevention and containment can be tricky. Fortunately, data centers tend to have generators in yards, meaning your spill footprint potential can be low. It generally makes inspections easy but means if there's a spill or accident, multiple generators could be impacted.
  • Operational Continuity: Downtime is expensive, so you need to handle spills quickly and efficiently. Every second lost can mean serious financial losses, so identifying and responding to spills or leaks is of extreme importance.
  • Few Staff Members: Data centers tend to be fairly well-oiled machines (no pun intended) that can largely run on their own. For this reason, it's common for data centers to have few - or at times even no - on-site employees. This makes catching spills difficult, and once one begins, it can spread quickly before someone notices.
  • Regulatory Complexity: SPCC regulations can be a maze, and finding your way through requires specialized knowledge. It's like doing taxes - a small facility with three generators with 500-gallon tanks could potentially just use the USEPA's Tier I SPCC Plan template, sort of like using a tax software system. Those with slightly larger data centers might need a Tier II SPCC Plan - best left to the professionals. Big facilities, with tens to hundreds of gallons of oil, are more like doing the taxes for a corporation - usually left to the professionals, often meaning a Professional Engineer Certified SPCC Plan. If you want the full story, check out our post on the different types of SPCC Plans, explained.

data center employee inspecting an emergency backup generator outside of data center

The Importance of Annual SPCC Training

One of the easiest ways to make sure you, your SPCC Plan, and your facility are all staying in compliance and on top of the program, is through annual training. We can (and have!) talked until we're blue in the face about the role of SPCC training in ensuring data center environmental compliance.

In fact, annual SPCC Training isn't just a recommendation, it's in the SPCC regulations written out by the federal government - it's a requirement! Anyone who handles oil at the facility must be trained, at least annually. However, we've gone on record saying we think every employee needs annual SPCC training.

Training can be anything from a refresher on the plan to management and those listed in the documentation to a more of a deep dive like SPCC training geared toward environmental managers.

Staying compliant with SPCC regulations isn’t a one-and-done deal. Regular training ensures your team stays up-to-date with the latest rules and best practices. That’s where our Annual SPCC Training for Data Centers comes in handy.

Benefits of Our Annual SPCC Training Course

Here’s what makes our training course a game-changer for folks with SPCC Plans in the data center industry:

  1. Expert Instruction: Learn from industry experts who understand the ins and outs of data center operations and the specific challenges they face under SPCC regulations.
  2. Engaging Format: Sleek narrated videos ensure the course is easy to get through and make the material stick.
  3. Concise Content: Our training can be completed in under an hour. We give you everything you need to know, and skip all the mumbo jumbo you don't.
  4. Flexible Learning: Our online course format allows your staff to learn at their own pace, fitting training into their busy schedules easily.
  5. Compliance Certification: Hint-hint: documentation of annual SPCC training is required! Our course awards a certificate of completion serving as proof of your adherence to SPCC regulations that can be printed and stored within your plan.

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Course Overview

So, what can you expect from our annual SPCC training course? It’s comprehensive and engaging, covering all the key areas:

  • Understanding SPCC Plans: All the basics - what SPCC plans are, where they come from, why they exist, how they're governed and enforced, what's inside an SPCC plan, and what you need to do with it.
  • Unique Challenges of Data Centers: We expand on some of the challenges above, giving more insight into the common pitfalls for data center SPCC compliance.
  • Best Practices for Data Centers: Building on unique challenges, you'll learn how your daily activities can help your data center stay in compliance with SPCC regulations.
  • Spill Scenarios: So you had a spill - now what? We explore what a spill might look like at a data center and how to be prepared for a spill at your facility.
  • Other Environmental Considerations for Data Centers: It's not just SPCC plans you need to worry about! This short module gives a bird's eye view of additional environmental regulations and considerations that data centers should be aware of.

Real-World Impact: A Spill at a Data Center

Imagine this scenario: A bustling data center experiences a minor oil spill due to a generator malfunction. The leak occurs during peak operational hours, causing initial alarm among the staff. However, thanks to the comprehensive SPCC training that all employees received, the team springs into action.

First, an alert employee identifies the spill and immediately grabs the SPCC plan from its spot on the shelf. They quickly flip to the emergency notifications section and quickly contact clean-up contractors and management.

Meanwhile, other trained employees set up temporary barriers to contain the oil, preventing it from spreading toward a nearby stormdrain. The trained staff swiftly work together to contain the spill using absorbent materials from the nearest spill kit.

The employees follow the procedures laid out in their SPCC plan, meticulously documenting the incident and the steps taken to address it. Their efficient response stops the spill in its tracks before it can reach any waterways, sensitive equipment, or areas within the data center.

Before they know it, the spill has been contained, cleaned up, and documented. What could have spiraled into an operational nightmare amounted to no more than a hectic afternoon hiccup.

This success story highlights why regular SPCC training and preparedness are essential, demonstrating that with the right knowledge and teamwork, even unexpected situations can be managed effectively and efficiently.

drone shot above large warehouse style data center building with emergency generator yard

Take the Next Step

Navigating the complexities of environmental regulations is crucial for any facility aiming to operate smoothly and efficiently. With RMA by your side, you can ensure your operations not only meet legal requirements but also run more effectively, saving you time and resources.

At RMA, we're committed to supporting you every step of the way. Whether you’re breaking ground on a new data center or refining an existing SPCC plan, our expert team is ready to help you achieve your environmental compliance goals and streamline your business operations.

Ready to take the next step? Drop us an email at info@rmagreen.com, reach out through our contact page, or call us at 888-RMA-0230. Let's work together to overcome your environmental challenges and keep your business running smoothly.

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