Safety on a Budget

The current economy is making it hard for professionals to travel. NFPA's conference and expo provide plenty of good reasons to go, however.

Layoffs have hit safety and health professionals like everyone else. For those fortunate enough to still be employed, the economic crisis has quickly translated into a budget crisis. But how does one keep costs down and convince the boss it's worth every penny to continue to attend conferences? Erik Holden, senior product manager of training development for the National Fire Protection Association, has taken up the challenge and has posted on NFPA's blog a list of steps to take to convince your boss it is worth the investment to attend the 2009 NFPA Conference & Expo, which will take place June 8-11 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Holden lists three steps for making a successful argument:

Step one: Show your boss the conference brochure. The 12-page brochure is a useful resource for building your case. Breaking down each day's education and spotlight sessions and featured presentations, it points out relevant sessions that fit with your employer's greatest needs. For example, an electrical engineer for an electrical power plant would get a lot out of attending session T53, "NFPA 70E--2009 New Requirements, Enhancements and Future Improvements."

The feature presentation planned on June 10 from 10 a.m. to noon is by Dr. Shyam Sunder, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Building and Fire Research Laboratory and NIST's lead investigator at the World Trade Center disaster. His presentation will discuss the NIST report on the collapse of Tower 7, including the investigative process and the analysis necessary to determine the sequence of events that resulted in the collapse.

As Holden notes in his blog, make the argument that at all of these events you've pointed out, learning is not just limited to the classroom because attendees will have the chance to talk to industry experts--NFPA staffers, technical committee members, and knowledgeable vendors. This progresses naturally into step two.

Step two: Spread the wealth! The wealth, in this case, is knowledge. Bosses are more likely to be inclined to send their employees if they know the knowledge shared there will be brought back. Promise to take copious notes of every session and event attended, then distribute these materials to co-workers upon your return. With more than 130 educational sessions and 21 pre-conference seminars planned, attendees will come away with binders full of information.

Step three: Return on investment. Although the gain in knowledge more than pays for itself, these troubled times require even more reasons to get management to look beyond the costs. One of those reasons is certification. Beyond the information attendees will receive while attending the many sessions, they will be earning valuable CEU and AIA learning units that are required to remain certified.

Networking is another important reason for attendance. The expo floor will feature more than 300 exhibitors and thousands of industry professionals ready to connect and share information. From these new associations can come many great ideas to take back to your workplace. Ideas can also come from seeing firsthand how some of the pros run their facilities. NFPA has two planned "Behind-The-Scenes-Tours" taking place on Saturday, June 6, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. One is to the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL), and the other is to Underwriters Laboratories' (UL) Northbrook, Ill., corporate campus.

At FNAL, attendees will get a close look at the unique fire protection challenges this facility faces--such as dealing with complex particle beam experiments and underground accelerators--and the fire protection systems that were designed to address them. A presentation on fire protection and a brief overview of the physics research will take place, with stops at several detector buildings. At the UL tour, attendees will witness a large-scale fire test involving a warehouse rack configuration and sprinkler system. They'll also experience UL's Traveling Safety Exhibit and have a chance to participate in a presentation on applicable fire codes as they relate to NFPA 13, 20, and 72. (NFPA 13 and 20 are the standards for installation of fire sprinklers and stationary pumps for fire protection, respectively, while 72 is the National Fire Alarm Code®.)

Don't Forget to Have Fun
Once you've won your argument, don't forget to also plan on enjoying what Chicago has to offer. NFPA has taken the first step by hosting "The Second City," the acclaimed sketch comedy group, during its General Session on June 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. at McCormick Place's Arie Crown Theater. The Second City has a long list of well-known alumni who include John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, and Tina Fey.

Attractions outside the convention center include downtown Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping area, the John Hancock and Sears Tower buildings, marinas and parks along the lakefront, and the world-class Art Institute.

Expo Hours
Monday, June 8, 3:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. (Networking Reception is 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.)
Tuesday, June 9, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Wednesday, June 10, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

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