April 2022 / Vol. 27 No. 4
By Bryan P. Holland, MCP. CStd., NEMA Senior Technical Field Representative, Southern Region
Provisions to improve resiliency in the built environment have recently become a fundamental aspect of Codes and Standards. This is partly due to the significant increase in natural disasters over the last two decades, the increased danger of cybersecurity threats in this connected age, and the societal demands for more sustainable communities. For instance, natural disasters alone cost insurers $120 billion in damage losses in 2021, making the year the second most costly, nearly reaching the record set in 2017.
Industry stakeholders and consumers expect resiliency features in building and community infrastructures’ wiring systems, including:
- robust standby and energy storage systems built to be more resilient to utility power outages,
- surge protection due to increased thunderstorms because of climate change,
- and other electrical safety, fire safety, and energy-efficient installations to improve overall building performance.
New construction and new community infrastructure projects are undoubtedly incorporating resiliency features at an ever-increasing rate.
When it comes to building and community resiliency, the elephant in the room is all the existing buildings and structures within the community that predate resiliency strategies. In parts of the United States, there are as many as eight existing buildings for every newly constructed building. Many of these existing buildings predate the current Codes and Standards that have incorporated resiliency provisions. Apart from two counties in Southeast Florida, building electrical system improvement and recertification programs are completely nonexistent across the nation.
The spotlight on resiliency gaps for existing buildings following the June 2021 collapse of a beachfront condominium in Florida and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on building occupancy and use. These events prompted several standards-developing organizations, including NEMA, to further improve and enhance resiliency in the existing built environment. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPAs) is taking up one effort.
The NFPA 70B “Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance” is being converted into the “Standard for Electrical Maintenance” for the 2023 edition. This standard will cover developing, implementing, and operating an electrical maintenance program (EMP). The purpose of the standard is the practical safeguarding of persons, property, and processes from the risks associated with failure, breakdown, or malfunction and to provide a means to establish an acceptable condition of maintenance of electrical equipment and systems to address safety and reliability.
Two codes developed by the International Code Council (ICC) are also considering improvements to enhance the resiliency of existing buildings — the 2024 editions of the International Property Maintenance Code (IMPC) and the International Existing Building Code (IEBC). The purpose of the IMPC is to establish minimum requirements for jurisdictions to provide a reasonable level of health, safety, property protection, and general welfare insofar as they are affected by the continued occupancy and maintenance of structures and premises. The purpose of the IEBC is to provide flexibility to permit the use of alternative approaches to achieve compliance with the minimum requirements to provide a reasonable level of safety, health, property protection, and general welfare insofar as they are affected by the repair, alteration, change of occupancy, addition, and relocation of existing buildings. Both of these documents will include a reference to the NFPA 70B, along with guidance criteria on the inspection and recertification of existing electrical systems after a certain period following the issuance of a certificate of occupancy.
NEMA also addresses resiliency in its Resilience Assessment Toolkit and Storm Reconstruction Toolkit. Both toolkits include many resources and guidance materials on building electrical system resiliency in the existing built environment for buildings and community infrastructure.
We can achieve authentic building and community resiliency in the built environment by addressing both new and existing building and community infrastructure. We can accomplish this by developing adoptable and enforceable codes and standards focusing on existing electrical system criteria. The NEMA Technical Field Representative Program serves NEMA members by supporting and promoting the development, adoption, and enforcement of Codes and Standards that improve and enhance electrical system resiliency. Through online and in-person training efforts, the program strives to educate all industry stakeholders and consumers on the importance of electrical system resiliency in the built environment for aging communities. The future of electrical system resiliency is promising and full of opportunities for NEMA and its members. ei