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Sonic wave at Red Bee Centre disrupts BBC services

When you have a room packed with expensive electronic broadcast equipment, how do you safeguard your servers and playout systems against fire? You’ll certainly need a special fire suppression system as sprinklers and water hoses will cause untold damage to your electronic hardware.

The fastest way to suppress a fire in such a situation is to pump in CO2 gas or suck out all the oxygen in the room. But before doing so, make sure everyone is out of the room.

When the fire suppression alarm went off at the Red Bee presentation suite in West London last Saturday at about 18.00 GMT, everyone was evacuated and the suppression system sucked out all of the oxygen in the room, causing a “sonic wave” that shut down servers and playout equipment on site.

The sonic wave caused BBC World News to drop its half-hour headlines, before going into automation. Networks such as Channel 4 and Channel 5 were also disrupted.

BBC One went into ratings winner Strictly Come Dancing with a recorded announcement, leaving viewers unaware of what was happening behind the scenes.

BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four, CBBC and CBeebies are duplicated in London and Salford, meaning all server material is available in both locations. Some Channel 4 and More 4 services were restored within 20 minutes, but Channel 4 HD did not return until later.

In a statement released the following day, Red Bee said, “We will continue to work towards full service recovery and are investigating what triggered the fire suppression systems in the Broadcast Centre on Saturday evening.”

Normal services had not yet been fully restored on Monday, 27 Sep. In an update on Twitter, Channel 4 said, “We continue to experience disruption to our services due to technical issues.

“We’re working hard to resume our normal services and appreciate your continued understanding and patience.”

Service recovery is indeed important; but, most important, the sonic wave did not kill anyone … it is not dangerous like the new wave of the Delta coronavirus that is choking off oxygen from thousands of Covid patients daily.

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