This piece was originally published in the October 2017 issue of electroindustry.
Jim Pauley, President, National Fire Protection Association
You don’t have to look far to see the changes that shape the way we live, work, and spend our free time: the smartphones in our pockets, the gadgets in our homes and offices, the cars we drive, the way we build, and the products we use.
The public relies on and expects technology. It is transforming just about everything and happening faster and faster.
Yet we are seeing one of the most troubling trends in fire, life, and electrical safety—the push to skip code cycles or extend code adoption six or more years. The public seems to have forgotten that codes and standards are one of the reasons that losses from fire, electrical, and other hazards decreased significantly over recent years. If policymakers and the public don’t see tragedies, they don’t understand the importance of updated codes. Have we not done a good enough job of educating them about the value of codes and their role in advancing technology and promoting safety? Obviously not. We must do better.
Standards developing organizations have been around for more than a century, benefiting governments, the private sector, and ultimately the public. This time-tested system is one of the oldest, most successful public–private partnerships. Until recently, the system was largely unknown beyond those involved. It simply worked. But as special interests, a complacent public, and an anti-regulatory environment converge, we find the system’s significance to society in need of explaining.
What should we be saying?
Modern safety codes such as the National Electrical Code® (NEC) improve safety and advance innovation. They are updated every three years to incorporate the latest research, learnings, and technology.
Codes Impact Safety and Resilience
Beyond fatalities and injuries, the United States sees billions of dollars in property damage and economic losses from natural disasters every year. The latest codes and standards encourage the availability of the most advanced design methods and construction techniques to protect public safety, improve the resilience of homes and businesses, and offer best practices to reduce losses.
Codes Support Innovation
In addition to improving safety, updates to key codes can save money, enable new technology, and spur economic efficiency. For example, recent changes to the NEC give installers of alternative energy systems (e.g., photovoltaics and wind) more economical options for choosing the equipment needed to connect the system to the grid. On the horizon, new energy storage systems may give homeowners even more options for energy efficiency and reliability. Updates to the model code ensure these products can be safely installed.
You wouldn’t buy a new computer and settle for outdated software to power it. Why would we want buildings constructed to outdated standards?
It is up to all of us to tell this story.