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Code Development: A Lesser-Known Art Form

By Mark Earley | Dec 15, 2021
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Developing processes to accomplish work is an art form. Most successful processes evolve over time. It’s necessary to include stakeholders that represent all the disciplines affected by the new process. It is possible, however, to involve too many people in the development, particularly if a lot of them think alike.

When replacing an existing process, it is important to understand why the original elements were put in place. Sometimes, conditions that brought about parts of the process in the first place no longer exist. Technology may have created a better solution or caused new problems.

Creating a process for developing codes and standards can be a mind-numbing experience. There is minutiae that must be considered, and the various steps of the process must be imagined while other priorities are being handled. Finally, a dry run should be conducted to see if things work in accordance with the intended design.

NFPA codes and standards use various techniques to show changes between editions, including marginal lines, text shading, triangles and bullets. The Regulations Governing the Development of NFPA Standards do not do this, so changes in the regulations aren’t always obvious.

For most of my time at NFPA, codes and standards were developed in accordance with the Regulations Governing Committee Projects. The 2014 National Electrical Code was the last NFPA document developed under those regulations. Now, all NFPA codes and standards are developed in accordance with the Regulations Governing the Development of NFPA Standards. The newer regulations were developed with the introduction of the TerraView software.

First draft stage

The intent of the new regulations was to streamline the process, in what is now known as the first draft stage. Proposals are now called public inputs, but many will continue to call them proposals. In the past, a proposal could be accepted, rejected or three in-between actions taken. Every proposal had to be answered by the committee, and letter- balloted by the committee.

In the new process, the committee is responsible for developing changes, which are referred to as first revisions and essentially answers the public input. Of course, the committee can also create revisions without external input. The public inputs can be grouped together to serve as the backdrop for what the committee has done. However, the committee must substantiate what it has done and can use the substantiation from the public input or develop something else. In the old system, it was necessary to provide a detailed response to any proposal or comment that wasn’t completely accepted. This lessens the committee’s workload, but the submitter may wonder why their approach wasn’t used.

If the committee doesn’t create a revision, it will make a statement to explain why they did not. The committee often responds to public inputs in groups. Essentially, the process at this stage became binary—the code is either changed or it isn’t. Balloting is also simplified because the only thing that is balloted are the first revisions to the code. The actions taken on resolved public inputs are finalized at the meeting and are not subject to further balloting.

The potential downside to the current first draft stage is that the responses may not be helpful to a rejected submitter trying to present something that has a better chance of acceptance the next time.

Second draft stage

One major simplification of the second draft stage is that you don’t need to do anything if you like what happened at the first draft stage. In fact, the regulations only permit the comments that recommend a change.

The second draft stage also may be viewed as binary—the panels are either changing what they did during the first draft stage, or they aren’t. However, the panels can take a number of actions to respond to public comments. This is where it can get confusing. While a public comment can be accepted, this is rare. The slightest grammatical or spelling correction would not allow the use of an accept action.

Reject but see

In the past, a change would have resulted in an action of “accept in principle,” “accept in part” or “accept in principle in part.” The new action is “reject but see,” which will point to a second revision. This is a simplification, but the term “reject but see” causes confusion and has unnecessarily negative connotations.

The TerraView software is designed to prevent conflicting actions. The software can’t differentiate identical comments from those that are clearly different. So, if someone develops a comment and then decides to submit it through their membership organization, the panel can’t accept them both. If members agree with the comments, the only available action is “reject but see,” referring to the second revision that was created.

NFPA could have come up with a better term for the action. As a consultant, I don’t relish the idea of telling a client that I got a “reject but see” action. If I was an employee, I would not like to give that news to my boss, even though I might be successful.

Two other actions are worthy of note. Public comments can still be rejected with a statement that explains why the committee didn’t agree. Comments can also be held for consideration during the next cycle. This action was originally “hold for further study,” but was changed to “hold.” The new process action is “reject but hold.” I think they need to eliminate the negative connotation of “reject.”

NITMAM

The next stage in the process is for those who may not be happy with the results of the process. This is where you can notify NFPA that you want to get the NFPA membership to vote to change the committee’s action. An online form is available for this purpose when the second draft report is published. The form is a notice of intent to make a motion (NITMAM). NFPA regulations spell out eligibility requirements for submitting a NITMAM. Nothing new can be submitted at this point, but there are several possible motions:

  • Accept a public comment
  • Accept an identifiable part of a comment
  • Accept a committee comment
  • Accept an identifiable part of a committee comment
  • Reject a second revision
  • Reject an identifiable part of a second revision
  • Reject a second revision and any related portions of first revisions and first correlating revisions
  • Reject an identifiable part of a second revision and any related portions of first revisions and first correlating revisions
  • Reject a second correlating revision
  • Reject an identifiable part of a second correlating revision
  • Reject a second correlating revision and any related portions of first revisions and first correlating revisions
  • Reject an identifiable part of a second correlating revision and any related portions of first revisions and first correlating revisions
  • Return an entire NFPA standard—new NFPA standard
  • Return an entire NFPA standard—new edition of an existing NFPA standard

Review and judgment

A task group of the NFPA Standards Council will review all the NITMAMs and judge them strictly on whether or not they comply with the regulations and whether the submitter is eligible, based on the type of motion. The council certifies it as a certified amending motion (CAM). NFPA staff will put together a document that shows the recommended code language if the motion passes or the recommended text if the motion fails. This document will become the agenda for the NFPA Technical Meeting in June 2022. Some will pass, and others will fail. Some of the actions will be balloted to the CMP and the Correlating Committee.

This is not the final step. The results of the process will be delivered to the Standards Council. The council will also hear appeals and make decisions, which usually results in additional changes, they and will vote on issuing the code.

The evolution—not revolution—of the process provides as much openness and usability as possible.

About The Author

EARLEY, P.E., is an electrical engineer. Retired from the National Fire Protection Association, he was secretary of the National Electrical Code Committee for 30 years and is president of Alumni Code Consulting Group.

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