Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on January 2, 2019.

Doubling Down

How NFPA is boosting its efforts to address fire and life safety threats worldwide

Not long after its founding in 1896, NFPA began to address fire safety issues on a global scale. While this international focus has never wavered, the shifting nature of the global fire problem has made it clear that we need to do more. Factors such as changing demographics, population growth, and urbanization, coupled with an insufficient worldwide fire safety infrastructure to handle these changes, have made our international presence more important than ever, and the opportunities to make an impact all the more apparent.

With this in mind, NFPA took significant steps in 2018 to increase our global impact. As we start 2019, we are doubling down on these efforts, which will include laying important groundwork that will enable NFPA to more effectively reduce international fire deaths, injuries, and economic loss far into the future.

A key first step for NFPA’s international strategy has been to find ways to learn from our global stakeholders to better understand the political, cultural, demographic, economic, and physical characteristics that drive the fire problem in different regions. This has already begun in a number of ways. In 2018, NFPA staff experts participated in a number of international conferences and symposia. During NFPA’s annual Conference & Exhibition, our executive team met with delegations from around the world to learn about their initiatives and needs. In November, we invited leading Latin American fire officials to our headquarters to participate in a forum on enforcement and compliance strategies. At each event, we gain valuable information and experience to inform our global strategy.

We are also forming international groups to provide NFPA with timely and ongoing updates on regional fire problems. The first of these, formed in 2017, is the Middle East/North Africa Advisory Council. The group, comprised of civil defense agencies, engineering organizations, testing agencies, and major property managers, meets twice each year to discuss regional issues and offer insight and recommendations.

As these international knowledge pipelines mature, this year NFPA will focus on promoting the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem around the world so that we can collaborate with local experts to address fire issues. Our ecosystem concept provides a roadmap for countries to evaluate and improve their fire and life safety initiatives and infrastructure. As these efforts take shape, I believe NFPA will be better positioned to positively impact the global fire problem than at any time in our history.

This strong international push comes in response to a number of global factors. The world’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate, and the United Nations estimates that, by 2050, 68 percent of people on the planet will live in urban areas, compared to 55 percent today. Most of that new urban population will live in high-rise buildings or in informal, unregulated settlements, each with unique fire safety challenges. Many of these are being built now.

NFPA believes it must act quickly if it wants to educate policymakers; support the development of strong regulatory and code compliance systems; train designers, installers, and contractors; educate the public; and promote robust fire service capacity before urban growth results in catastrophic fire events.

We are proud of the global work that we have done so far. NFPA standards are in use in at least 60 countries, and our data analytics tools, research projects, and wildfire programs continue to make an impact globally. We are making a difference, but we know that much more needs to be done if we want to fulfill our vision of eliminating deaths, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards.

DONALD BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler