Millions of people flock to Las Vegas every day to golf, gamble, shop, and dine. But for only a few days in February can visitors do all that and clarify NEC regulations, all in one trip. The 2004 Electric West Exposition and Conference will take over a portion of the Las Vegas Convention Center Feb. 2-4, with a few pre-show sessions scheduled for Feb. 1. Here's your opportunity to brush-up on industry information, check out new and innovative products, and personally deliver your get well wishes to Siegfried and Roy.

Last year's Electric West Show drew more than 5,000 industry professionals, and organizers expect to see a similar- sized crowd this year. More than 200 companies will set up shop in the exhibit hall to showcase their latest products and services. Expect to see everything from fire and safety alarms to power conditioning equipment. Just when you swear you'll go cross-eyed if you see another electrical fitting, you can take a seat and listen to one of the 39 scheduled informational sessions.

Electric West offers sessions for everyone from the seasoned professional to the electrical novice. It's evident that the year's electrical industry events influenced the upcoming session topics. Incidents like the August 14 blackout have prompted many speakers to prepare discussions on prevention and crisis management, including this year's keynote speaker, John Colson, chairman and CEO of Quanta Services. His address titled “The Future of Electrical Contracting in the United States” will focus on the frequent changes and challenges that face the electric power industry today like terrorism, blackouts, and regulatory issues. He'll also discuss how to look beyond the present to anticipate and meet the demands of the future.

Electric West will also offer more specialized sessions that break down and analyze some of today's hot-button issues. The electric power industry is one of the few markets in which Web-based education isn't flourishing. The “Making Web-Based Learning Work for Technical Skills Training” session at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 4 will emphasize the benefits of Web training like day and night access to training content, improved consistency in content and quality, easier and more reliable tracking and administration, and lower training cost.

During the “Understanding and Applying the NEC,” session at 11 a.m. on Feb. 2 Mike Holt, author of Mike Holt's Illustrated Guide to Code Changes Based on the 2002 National Electrical Code, will provide an in-depth examination of some of the most important NEC rules. Holt will also clarify some of the NEC's more confusing, conflicting, and controversial rules.

The “Integrated Maintenance Optimization” session at 11 a.m. on Feb. 2, will teach you a state-of-the-art approach for your company's organizational and technical framework. It will provide you with the tools and training necessary to improve operating efficiencies, workforce utilization, capacity, availability, and reliability as well as reduce spare inventory, parts consumption, and improve safety.

Seven of this year's sessions offer attendees the opportunity to earn continuing education units (CEUs). “Arc Flash Hazard Analysis” is one such session. You'll learn about what causes an arc flash, regulations and standards that govern safe work practices, manual computerized techniques in analysis, and methods to alleviate and reduce arc flash hazards. You'll also update your arc flash hazard vocabulary as session speaker John Lane, principal engineer, AVO Training Institute, introduces new terms, such as limited, restricted and prohibited approach boundary, flash protection boundary, incident energy, and arc fault current.

And a convention wouldn't be a convention without a good old-fashioned Q&A session. “Ask the Experts” is an opportunity to get the answers to your burning power quality questions. Some of the topics to be covered are harmonics, transients, grounding, waveform distortion, waveform signature analysis, power quality installation techniques, and lightning protection. Mark McGranaghan, vice president of consulting services for EPRI-PEAC, and Michael Lowenstein, president and CEO of Harmonics Limited will serve on the panel.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, we had to go and throw a nail-biting contest into the mix. For the past three years, EC&M has awarded the Product of the Year Platinum Award to honor excellence in new product development in the electrical industry. Past winners include a drill-spotting tool and color-coded cable, but it's time to crown a new champion. For the past couple months, companies have submitted entries in various product catagories like test equipment, wiring devices, and power distribution equipment. The finalists will be on display at Electric West for attendees to look over, then vote for online, and the winner will be announced at the Electric Show in May.

They say ignorance is bliss, but not in the electrical power industry. Not knowing the latest regulations, standards, and products could put a company and its employees at risk physically and financially. Every day people depend on electrical professionals to create and maintain safe electrical systems. With that kind of pressure, it's crucial to keep up to date, and that's what Electric West is all about; it's a three-day information blast you can't afford to miss. Besides, this will probably be the only time this year you will be able to justify a trip to Sin City sans your spouse.