Author(s): Casey Grant. Published on September 1, 2019.

From Paupers to Kings

Once hard to come by, the world is now flush with electrical data. The question is what to do with it.


The ongoing data revolution is changing the fire and life safety landscape in many ways, not least of which is its potential to reshape and inform the codes and standards development process. This is especially true for the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), the document that has allowed civilization to safely harness and embrace the power of electricity.

In one way or another, the NEC touches everyone because electricity drives every corner of our world: lights, computers, pacemakers, vehicles, giant industrial installations. Because of this, perhaps no other code is as impacted by the warp speed of our changing technology—or has the greatest potential to benefit from the rise in plentiful data.

Like all regulatory documents, data is the critical lifeblood for making improvements to the NEC. Data tells us how severe and widespread a problem is, informs us how to fix it, and provides the urgency for implementing the resolution—all the key details at the heart of code revisions. Without solid data, code- and standard-making committees are just shooting in the dark.

However, the electrical data collection infrastructure has historically been lacking. Except in limited situations, we have frequently struggled to provide the necessary data to substantiate code changes. This has been particularly true for the NEC, and is similarly true of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, and NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®. Thankfully, we are starting to see progress.

Innovative technological advancements are enabling electrical data collection in ways that were not previously available or imaginable, leading to a sudden flood of data-driven insights. These innovations include technologies such as Power over Ethernet, or PoE, where intelligent network cables also carry electrical power. Innovations also include the installation of smart devices in electrical systems that can measure the performance of existing equipment or circuits to capture data that has never been captured before. Increasingly, data reporting is being incorporated into the initial design of equipment such as photovoltaic systems and energy storage systems. There is even a product on the market that can collect a range of electrical data for single-family residences and conduct predictive analytics to identify potential problems, such as ground and arc faults, before they manifest into dangerous conditions.

All of this activity has prompted a need for us to take stock of what is out there and how we can best utilize this sudden data explosion to increase electrical safety. That’s why the Fire Protection Research Foundation will host “Electrical Data Summit: Impact of Data in the Electrical World.” This one-day event, to be held at NFPA headquarters in November, will bring together a variety of code experts, technology enthusiasts, data specialists, and others to evaluate how these emerging technologies and data-driven solutions might impact the NEC and other NFPA documents going forward. The summit will seek to clarify the data around electricity and identify the knowledge gaps and related needs. Ultimately, we hope to create an actionable roadmap to inform our future activities.

Being on the cusp of a new data-based era is both exciting and a huge challenge. It’s incumbent on all of us—researchers, manufacturers, safety officials, code developers, and other stakeholders—to meet it, and to maximize the use of this commodity in new and hard-to-imagine ways to make our world safer.

For more information on the Electrical Data Summit, visit

Casey Grant is executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler