NFPA: Prioritising safety in a rapidly evolving digital world

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Jim Pauley, President & CEO of the National Fire Protection Association, reflects on the NFPA Conference & Expo 2023

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Conference & Expo took place in June, but the energy of the more than 8,000 attendees for those few days in Las Vegas continues to fuel our determination to be more digital, more global, and more connected to our many stakeholders throughout the fire, electrical, and life safety communities.

I had the privilege to deliver my keynote speech before an audience that travelled from more than 60 countries to join us.

My remarks during the general session highlighted a crucial reality: the world is rapidly digitising and electrifying, with technology transforming every aspect of our lives.

In this evolving world, dedication to safety is more critical than ever because of our growing reliance on technologies that bring unprecedented benefits yet new risks.

As the world becomes increasingly digital, we must adapt our approach to safety, learning to navigate the new terrain and mitigate potential threats while keeping sight of the persistent challenges we face in fire, life, and electrical safety.

In recent years, digital transformation has become a buzzword, a nebulous concept ranging from implementing a new software tool to overhauling a company’s business model.

Yet, its core purpose is to create value for the user, improve efficiency, and achieve better outcomes.

There are many examples spanning various sectors – everything from hospitality to healthcare.

Some predict spending on digital transformation technologies will reach $2.3 trillion this year.

Furthermore, 90% of executives believe digital transformation will fundamentally change their industry’s competitive landscape, with 72% considering it a priority.

Such statistics underscore the weight of the digital era and the urgency for businesses and organisations to evolve or risk obsolescence.

This digital revolution, however, is more than just a phenomenon confined to tech-focused sectors.

It has penetrated even traditional industries, including fire, electrical, and life safety, which was plain for anyone visiting the exhibition floor during the Conference & Expo.

Digital transformation is not just about the adoption of new technologies.

It’s a comprehensive overhaul of our operational practices, ways of communication, and delivering value to our communities, which means more lives are saved and more property is protected.

As with any wave of innovation, new and unexpected safety challenges can arise, often driven by the same technological advancements we celebrate.

For instance, lithium-ion batteries power many of our everyday devices, from phones, laptops, toys, power tools, and electric cars.

But this ubiquitous and helpful innovation has also been implicated in numerous fire incidents, accentuating the delicate balance between advancement and safety.

Emerging Risks

At NFPA, we are actively addressing these issues and other emerging risks.

We facilitate the development of new codes and standards, such as NFPA 855, for the installation of stationary energy storage systems.

Our codes and standards are regularly updated to keep pace with technological changes and emergency risks.

We offer new training programs for professionals working with new technologies, responding to their associated challenges, and distributing science-based public education materials.

We’re also conducting research through the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, to stay ahead of emerging threats and explore new opportunities in fire, electrical, and life safety.

Yet, as we grapple with these newer risks, we must focus on the ongoing fight against more traditional threats, such as home fires and wildfires.

Here in the US, home fires remain a devastating reality, accounting for 75% of fire deaths.

Although significant progress has been made since the 1980s in reducing fire-related fatalities, a concerning uptick in reported deaths over the last decade necessitates renewed effort and strategic solutions.

Similarly, our Outthink Wildfire initiative strives to counter the growing threat of wildfires, particularly in high-risk regions such as California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

This program offers valuable guidance on implementing and enforcing codes and standards to curb the wildfire problem.

The challenge of wildfire is testing communities worldwide, and these policy approaches can also provide strategies for others.

The world we operate in today vastly differs from a few years ago.

Digital technologies, while creating a more interconnected global community, also present new ways to tackle old problems.

NFPA is embracing digital technology to reach more people in more places with life and property-saving information.

In line with this vision, we developed NFPA LiNK, a digital platform offering instant access to all our codes and standards as well as multimedia explanatory content.

In a rapidly changing world, it supports professionals in different roles by enabling them to work more efficiently and safely, irrespective of geographical location.

It is helping companies, educational institutions, and government agencies achieve their own digital transformation.

We also continue to evolve our training and certification programs, with over 300 online courses covering a variety of fire protection, building life safety, electrical, and industrial hazard topics.

We can reach learners worldwide through computer-based testing and online remote proctoring, ensuring certifications are more accessible than ever before.

A new and revamped is on the horizon, with an integrated translation platform to serve our growing international audience.

This website will offer a more intuitive user experience and enhanced search capabilities to provide a seamless path to information.

NFPA, a pioneer in fire, life, and electrical safety for 127 years, remains uniquely positioned to address both current and emerging challenges.

We carry forward our commitment, knowledge, and passion, aided by the invaluable insights from our volunteer technical committee members, staff, board, and the community of professionals from around the world in solving some of the toughest problems we face in fire, electrical, and life safety.

After numerous meetings at the Conference & Expo, where I had the opportunity to connect with partners from around the world, I came away more hopeful and energised to meet those opportunities and challenges — no matter how daunting they may seem today.

It’s a big world. We can, and we will protect it together.

About the Author

Jim Pauley is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

NFPA is a global, non-profit organisation devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

Pauley also serves as Chairman of the Board of the NFPA Research Foundation.

This exclusive article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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