“Let me tell you why I think these are both the best of times for NFPA and the most challenging times that NFPA has ever faced.” NFPA President Jim Shannon took the stage at the Opening General Session today to bring attendees up to speed on Association activities and initiatives.
Mr. Shannon said that throughout its 116-year history, NFPA has worked to meet the fire and life safety challenges of the times. The Association’s impact is felt around the globe, he said.
“But NFPA is not just a fire safety organization although we are very proud of that legacy,” he said. “We are also one of a handful of private organizations whose main purpose is to develop the health and safety standards on which millions and millions of people depend and we do that through one of the earliest and most successful public/private partnerships. Developing codes and standards to be used by industry and adopted into law by government is at the heart of everything we do.”
Mr. Shannon said that many political bodies, including the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, and individual municipalities, rely on NFPA to develop safety standards for- fire, electrical and other hazards. “They know that a standard produced in the NFPA system has been considered fully and carefully on its technical merits. They know that our committees are balanced and our process is transparent,” he said.
He added that the revenues needed to fund NFPA’s code development system come from the most independent of sources: the thousands and thousands of individuals who use the documents standards, “and not some special interest that underwrites the process in order to achieve a self-interested result.”
Mr. Shannon said technology is poising both opportunities and challenges for the Association.
“The internet age and digital technology have given us an unprecedented ability to distribute all of our information to more people, faster than any of us could have imagined a decade or two ago,” he said.
He said that in 2011, NFPA had over 6.6 million visits to its website. There are also 27,000 fans on NFPA’s Facebook page who last year shared our content with more than 7.5 million of their friends. And over on Twitter, NFPA has more than 13,000 followers, all helping to spread the NFPA message.
“As many of you have already heard we have revised our standards development process so that we can take full advantage of web based technology,” he said. “These changes will improve the efficiency of the process and enhance transparency at the same time. They will also mean that many more people will be able to participate in the NFPA standards development process.”
Mr. Shannon said one challenge of the internet age is that it threatens NFPA’s ability to charge for its codes and standards. “Some ‘free access’ advocates argue that whenever a privately developed standard is adopted into law the copyright is extinguished,” he said. “Their view is that government should be able to give away all codes and standards once they choose to use them and make them available on the internet without restriction.”
He noted that more than 10 years ago, NFPA posted all of its codes and standards on its website and made them available to anyone who wants to review them. These documents cannot be downloaded or printed, but anyone can read all of the documents online without paying a fee. “We were the first standards developing organization to do that,” said Mr. Shannon.