A New Way of Working
The ongoing research effort behind the codes and standards process
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2011
Each year, the Foundation presents the results of many of its projects at NFPA’s annual conference. As I was reviewing the Foundation’s track for this year’s meeting, it struck me that our project portfolio includes a number of efforts that represent a new way of working. I’ve written previously about the emerging role of collective intelligence as a natural model for an organization such as the Fire Protection Research Foundation, whose mission is to support NFPA’s consensus standards development process. The examples here illustrate a few of the various ways the Foundation has found to harness the information, thoughts, and even hard labor of members of the NFPA community to develop information to support code change.
The first example was the Summit on National Trends in the Delivery of Health and Long-Term Care that we held jointly with NFPA last July. This event brought together not only experts in fire safety in acute-care facilities but also the long-term care community, a group that until the last code-change cycle had not had much interaction with us. The event was filled with facts and figures on the current and future needs of these new and emerging health care and long-term care models. The fire safety challenges are apparent, and the resulting report from the summit lays out some suggested new approaches for NFPA’s Life Safety Code and other related documents. The upcoming NFPA conference includes an education session on this topic on June 13, 2011.
In March, we held the Workshop on Fire Protection Challenges in Telecommunications and Information Centers. This workshop focused on the new air movement control and containment strategies that are emerging to meet the thermal management challenges in these high-capacity centers. Fire protection systems and the codes and standards that address them are rapidly evolving to meet this challenge. The workshop addressed specific design scenarios and appropriate innovative fire protection concepts that will have a direct impact on NFPA standards, including NFPA 75, Protection of Information Technology Equipment, and NFPA 76, Fire Protection of Telecommunications Facilities.
The health care and telecommunications events, both of which featured careful research and preparation and several hours dedicated to one complex topic, are examples of what a group of committed stakeholders can accomplish, over and above what happens every day in NFPA technical committee meetings.
Finally, the Foundation’s project on fire hose friction loss coefficients provides a different example of collective effort to develop information to support code change. Although this project might seem like a straightforward table look-up exercise, the reality is that friction loss in modern fire hoses is a function of several factors that can only be evaluated in the field. This project brought together an impressive number of manufacturers and fire departments that together carried out a comprehensive series of field tests on today’s hose materials to update NFPA standards. The volunteer effort reduced the cost of the project by a factor of 10 and ensured that all the relevant field usage factors were considered. An education session on this topic will be held on June 12.
If we define a Foundation research project as one that follows our carefully developed standard procedures, at least two of these efforts would not fit that model. However, if we define it as one that develops data and information to support the needs of NFPA codes and standards development committees, then all three are wonderful examples. It’s my hope that the Foundation’s projects will continue to evolve to meet the needs of those committees with a mix of project types that best support our mission.
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.