My buddy Halon-2402

Halon-2402 and I have met. Some years ago, I saw an old sign in a computer room. The sign had to be old, because smoking in offices has been banned since the 1980s, and the sign appeared to be hand-lettered in colored permanent marker. It read something like this:

No smoking is allowed. Smoke in this room will cause the release of an expensive gas (Halon) and require its replacement. Absolutely no smoking is allowed!

The sign omitted one relatively significant detail. Not only is (was) Halon-2402 expensive, it will also kill you!

This is a better sign than the one I remember from the early days of my career. A good CISSP says human life trumps the cost of a fire extinguishing gas.

Several years later, I was working in a computer facility that still used Halon for fire suppression. Halon worked by interfering with the chemical reaction of fire and was especially nice for fire suppression around computer and communications equipment because it didn’t cause corrosion. Unfortunately it was very bad for the ozone layer, so its was banned under the 1987 Montreal Protocol and hasn’t been produced in the United States since 1993.

For whatever reason, management decided to discontinue using Halon in that building and installed a sprinkler system. In the process of removing the old Halon tanks, someone dropped and ruptured one of them. Someone ran around the building pounding on doors and yelling “Discharge!” After the second go-round, we figured out that meant to get out of the building until further notice. It was several hours before the authorities deemed the building safe for us to re-enter.

I’m pretty sure paying all of us to sit around outside the building and mess with our phones all day cost a lot more than all the Halon in the building was worth.

Job one in security is to prevent loss of life. Expense is also a concern–if something is worth $1,000, then a security consultant’s job is to protect it with measures that will take $1,000.01 worth of effort to defeat–but preserving life always trumps preserving dollars.

And besides that, I’m pretty sure that pointing out the potentially deadly consequences of smoking in that old computer room would have been more effective.

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