The National Electrical Safety Code® (NESC®) in Disaster Recovery

| Mike Hyland, David Law

Commonly shared, standardized rules defining how various utility workers of different disciplines and regions can work together safely are critical for a long list of good reasons. Their value in disaster recovery is near the very top.

Language, engineering controls and other aspects can vary substantially among the different types of utility workers who share joint structures. For example, while different power and communications workers presumably might work out issues of conflict as they arise on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis, cooperating within the parameters of the National Electrical Safety Code® (NESC®) makes working together both safer and more efficient. This is especially true when working outside of their own home regions and ensuring that all workers adhere to the correct clothing requirements, minimum approach distances and fall protection.  The value of being able to refer to shared safety guidelines is magnified in scenarios that inherently introduce unknown factors, such as disaster response in unfamiliar territory.

For utility workers in almost all of the United States and many other nations around the world, the NESC—in particular Part 4: Work Rules—provides an established, well-known and proven rallying point that successfully works within its scope to help protect not only those workers but also the general public during the installation, operation and maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and their associated equipment.

Contributing to Worker and Public Safety for More Than a Century

For both public and private utilities, the NESC specifies best safety practices for electric supply and communication systems such as telephone, cable and railroad signal systems (and their associated equipment). The more-than-100-year-old code is applicable from the generation of power or communications signals, all the way to the customer “service point,” which is the point of transfer to a premises wiring system

The NESC is among the most widely adopted safety codes. Almost all of the U.S. states leverage the code in whole or part via legislative, regulatory or voluntary action, and approximately 100 countries around the world use the NESC in some way.

The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) offers a range of e-courses that pertain to NESC usage in the field, including:

  • Introduction to Application of the NESC and the Grandfather Clause
  • Introduction to Electric Supply Stations
  • Introduction to Overhead Clearances Between Wires at Supports and Midspan
  • Introduction to the NESC Overhead Clearances to Ground
  • Introduction to the NESC Overhead Strengths and Loading

More information on the e-courses is available at

There are many other training opportunities in support of the NESC in its entirety, but also specifically for only the changes in the NESC from edition to edition. Many of these are external to IEEE, provided by educational institutions, lineman colleges, consulting companies, in-house programs and individuals that specialize in teaching of the NESC, both publically and privately. Sometimes, it is members of the NESC that participate in the development of the code who independently perform the training, providing in-depth insight into how NESC rules evolve. There have been opportunities where NESC members have provided preliminary information on proposed changes to the NESC at IEEE workshops or panel sessions in conjunction with the IEEE Power & Energy Society meeting. With the NESC becoming effective six months after its publication date, there is adequate time for workers to become up to speed on the latest NESC changes.

Also, the NESC is often cited in apprentice programs, all-hands safety meetings, safety manuals, spot checks to ensure regulations are adhered to, “tailboard discussions” and other aspects of the holistic safety programs that utilities today employ. For utility workers of all types and in many different markets, the NESC is pervasive in their daily work and helps create a Culture of Safety required in out ever-changing industry.

Participating in the Code’s Ongoing Refinement

Since 1972, IEEE has served as secretariat of the NESC, and, as the standards and collaborative solutions arm of IEEE, the IEEE-SA oversees the structured process that plays out over five years, during which the code is continually revised through open collaboration. Work on the 2017 edition is well underway. A proposed revision of the NESC, Accredited Standards Committee C2, is scheduled to be submitted to the NESC Committee by Jan. 15, 2016, for letter ballot, as well as to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for concurrent public review, resulting in the 2017 edition of the NESC.

Continuing upon the code’s first 100 years of success, the open, collaborative effort to ensure that the NESC remains a relevant, up-to-date resource never stops. In fact, today it is expanding. Not only are its shapers at work today on readying the next, 2017 edition, they also have broadened the conversation to look at how the NESC might need to evolve to address the needs of the coming decades.

A summit in April 2015, for example, brought the NESC’s shapers together to imagine the code’s next 100 years? What emerging issues in resiliency, safety, reliability, installation, operation and maintenance might impact its evolution? How might the NESC change over the next three, four or five editions? What needs to be addressed that is not currently supported? How can the code support agile, timely responsiveness to rapid changes in the industry and field? These were the types of far-reaching questions the summit addressed.

For example, among the topics discussed was the various disasters that can present significant safety threats, as well as losses in the tens of billions of dollars, and how the NESC relates to the issue of disaster preparedness and response. Prioritizing safety, reliability and resiliency, including the effectiveness and efficiency of current best approaches to disaster response and the customer and regulatory benefit of codes and standards for supporting resiliency efforts, were discussed.


The NESC has been in continuous use since August 1914, and, more than a century later, there is an intense, never-ending effort to ensure it remains a vital and relevant resource protecting utility worker and public safety.

To learn more about the code’s history and how you can contribute to its future, please visit

Mike HylandMichael J. Hyland, PE

Senior Vice President of Engineering Services, American Public Power Association


Mike is the Senior Vice President of Engineering Services for the American Public Power Association in Washington, D.C.  His department is responsible for APPA activities within the Transmission & Distribution, Safety, System Planning, Industry Standards, Security, Environmental, Smart Grid, and Energy Services areas.

Mike is a registered Professional Engineer, is currently Chair of the National Electrical Safety Code, and is a current Board member of both the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid (ADS) and the International Lineman’s Hall of Fame. He has been with APPA since 1996, having served in various engineering positions with Public Service Company of New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities, and the Philadelphia Electric Company.