I just returned home from a visit to the great city of Boston. Although I didn't get to walk down The Freedom Trail or stop in The Paul Revere House, I did finally get a chance to take part in my first NFPA Technical Meeting. The event was part of the overall World Safety Conference & Exposition, featuring more than 150 educational sessions.
As a member of the NFPA Electrical Section, I naturally zeroed in on the Code-related sessions, in hopes I would learn more about the proposed changes for the 2008 edition of the NEC — scheduled to be released in just a few months. I also wanted to gain a better understanding of what exactly takes place at these meetings. In true geek fashion, I think I actually enjoyed sitting in on these sessions more than I would have enjoyed playing tourist. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.
The education sessions were typical for a technical meeting. You sit in a room for a couple of hours, listen to the presenter, and take notes on items of interest — nothing out of the ordinary but pretty valuable nonetheless. However, attending the Electrical Section group meeting and overall Association Technical Meeting was a totally new experience for me. This was where the real action took place.
As a rookie attendee, I'm not ashamed to admit I found the official nature of these meetings both intimidating and confusing at first. Motions were being made left and right. Votes were being taken on proposals faster than I could locate them in the two large bound volumes sitting on my lap (997 and 585 pages, respectively!). I also struggled to grasp the special language of the Code-making process and make sense of terms like ROP, ROC, and NITMAM — not to mention comprehend what it was the people in the room were actually accepting, rejecting, or not pursuing. However, once I started to better understand the process, I was able to quietly observe the passion and dedication of all those involved in this seemingly overwhelming and ongoing cycle of change.
There was one thing I noticed right away. If you want to become an active participant at these meetings, you'd better have thick skin. In my opinion, hearing the meeting chairman utter the words “motion failed” after you just finished making an impassioned speech in front of several hundred people would be quite humbling. However, the veterans of this group took it in stride, appearing unfazed by the rejection. They simply took their seats to begin preparation for their next battle, which might be only minutes away.
The most important lesson I learned at this event was that these particular meetings are a culmination of a long three-year process. Although some fine-tuning did take place, the bulk of the work was done months or years prior. In other words, if you haven't convinced the members of the appropriate Code-Making Panel (there are 19 of these, by the way) that your proposal is worth accepting early on in the revision cycle, then you've got little chance of gaining the backing of the Electrical Section and ultimately swinging the vote in your favor at the Association Technical Meeting.
A couple of months from now, the 2008 NEC will be published. Soon thereafter, various organizations across the country will begin adopting this version. My guess is you might not be happy with all of the changes made to our industry bible. If this is true — and you want to propose your own change to the document — then you'd better start prepping as soon as the new edition hits your hands. As I see it, the unofficial 2011 NEC revision process is already well underway.