Why An NESC Summit?

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By Sue Vogel, Senior Manager, National Electrical Safety Code

With the 100-year anniversary milestone of the NESC still in the rear-view, it is time for the NESC to examine what the future may hold for this important national code as it enters its second century. A summit seems to be the logical venue to convene interested parties to begin a dialogue and examination of issues facing the NESC today and in the future for the industry it serves. However, let’s take a look back before moving forward.

In 1915, the first summit-like meeting took place: The New York Conference on the National Electrical Safety Code was held at the headquarters of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), the predecessor of the IEEE, and lasted two weeks. The object of this conference was to “enable a thorough study of the code to be made in conjunction with the representatives of the Bureau of Standards, by representatives from various parts of the country of the electric light and power companies, the steam and electric railways, the telephone and telegraph companies, and the manufacturers.” Delegates attending at that time were many of those same stakeholders that participate in the NESC today, albeit some by another name: “American Institute of Electrical Engineers, the National Electric Light Association, the American Electric Railway Association, the telephone interests, the state industrial and public service commissions, several of the larger cities, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Safety Council, and a considerable number of engineers representing groups of utility companies.”

The significance of convening a national effort with many stakeholders to develop a code that would protect workers and the public, with some industry group participants still in their infancy, cannot be underestimated. After all, the document produced was a first-time effort to write down rules for safety, encompassing many different perspectives and needs, with the ultimate goal of saving lives. The discussions held at the New York conference were critical for the time; persuasion was very much the name of the game, for development and existence of a national code with the cooperation of all affected interests, rather than local or state codes, or codes prepared by various societies.

B. Rosa, author of the article on the New York conference published in the January 1916 Proceedings of the A.I.E.E., notes that “such a safety code…is far-reaching in its influence, amounting in many respects to a standardization of electrical construction and operation, and as such comprehensive rules cannot be expected to apply generally without exception in special cases, they should not be enforced in an arbitrary or mechanical fashion.”

Fast-forward 100 years and we are looking at the second time in its history that the broad NESC community is coming together, this time to ensure that the NESC, a trusted code in the industry, remains relevant to those that it serves. The NESC leadership has identified a need to consider the future of the NESC from both a technical and a procedural perspective. The IEEE-Standards Association (IEEE SA) is also committed to provide users with a code that is also viable from a usability perspective. What should the NESC look like three, four, or five editions into the future? What should the code address that it currently does not? Who else needs to be involved? How can younger power engineers become engaged? How can the NESC ensure agility and timely responsiveness in the midst of a rapidly changing landscape? How can the current NESC structure reach out to ensure that the NESC is proactive in addressing industry needs? These and many other questions will be entertained during the NESC Summit.

Rosa further states: “The conference was characterized by good feeling and the spirit of cooperation. Naturally there was much difference of opinion among the delegates on some rules, due to so many different interests and so many parts of the country being represented, and also to the fact that individual experiences differ greatly even in the same industry and in the same locality.” It sounds like he is discussing a current-day NESC Technical Subcommittee meeting! Perhaps the more things change, the more they stay the same? And lest we forget, we should acknowledge the many hard-working and knowledgeable individuals who, over decades, as members of the NESC Main Committee, Executive Subcommittee, and Technical Subcommittees, have given their time and expertise over many years to bring each edition of the NESC to fruition, with incomparable integrity.

Actually, the words “characterized by good feeling and the spirit of cooperation” should be the mantra for the NESC Summit being held in 2015. This is a great opportunity at hand for the community that supports the NESC and the NESC that supports the industry to come together in a spirit of cooperation to examine all that the NESC is, and all that the NESC can be, so that the next 100 years continue to be governed by a safety code that continues to be trusted, viable, and relevant. Everyone who participates should feel good about making a contribution. However, we should not wait another century to convene another NESC industry-wide conference with the opportunity for all stakeholders to be present. NESC Summit II, anyone?