If we do some digging into the revision archives of the National Electrical Code (NEC), we can pretty much trace every requirement to one thing: saving lives! That is why the NEC exists; its purpose, the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity. If there is a way that we can install the electrical system so that it is safe for the individuals who interact with it, we will. That has been the guiding light of code making panels for as long as the archived revision information for the NEC has been around.
But what about when there is an emergency? Does the NEC contain requirements to keep the system safe during extenuating circumstances? Well, until recently there were not many requirements that would do this. After all, the purpose is the practical safeguarding, not safeguarding with every possible unforeseen event. However, does that mean there is nothing we can do at the installation stage that would help save a life in an emergency or unforeseen situation?
Starting around the 2011 edition we saw the "safety by design" concept enter the NEC. That is when the requirement for arc energy reduction on large circuit breakers was implemented. Even though the NEC isn’t about planning for disaster, IF we can install the equipment a certain way that will limit or mitigate the harm done to a person, people were starting to say, “well, maybe we should.” Then fast forward a bit and the question came up: “How can we install the system so that we can protect those who are responding to an emergency at that building?” In particular, people were looking at solar photovoltaic systems remaining energized even after the utility had cut the power during the response to a building on fire. In 2020, we now see the requirement to install a disconnect so that an emergency responder can disconnect power to the home instead of waiting for the utility to cut power.
Recently, I wrote an article for IAEI Magazine that explored this very revision to require a disconnecting means on the outside of one- and two-family dwellings, as well as the ins and outs of how this requirement came to be in the newest version of the NEC. In addition, I did an interview with Matt Paiss and Kwame Cooper last year at NFPA’s Conference & Expo. Mr. Paiss is the International Association of Fire Fighters representative on CMP-4, and Mr. Cooper is a member of the NFPA Board of Directors and retired fire fighter. IAFF and Mr. Paiss were instrumental in getting a requirement to help emergency response personnel stay safe. If you haven’t seen it before, check out our video interview here:
As the video interview points out, NFPA and the NEC exist to help eliminate the loss of life and property from electrical hazards, but ultimately, it really takes a group effort to make great things happen.
For more information about the NEC, visit NFPA’s electrical solutions webpage.
As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.