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Impacts and Recommendations

Since 1969, NIST has investigated about 40 earthquakes, hurricanes, building and construction failures, tornadoes, and fires—all with the ultimate aim of identifying improvements in codes, standards, practices, and technologies.

Recommendations Resulting from Studies


Impacts of NIST Disaster and Failure Studies include:

The Joplin Tornado (2011)

  1. Requirements for installation of storm shelters on school campuses were expanded (Joplin Recommendation #7).
    • The International Code Council (ICC) changed the International Building Code (IBC) to require that new buildings on existing school campuses in tornado prone regions (250 mph zone) include ICC 500 compliant tornado shelters.
    • The ICC also changed the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) to similarly require that additions to buildings on existing school campuses in tornado prone regions include tornado shelters.
    • Both codes added provisions for minimum shelter capacity and maximum travel distance to the shelters (to provide adequate time to reach the shelter).
    • All of these changes were adopted in the 2018 editions of the codes (IBC 2018 and IEBC 2018).
  2. Building safety considerations were added to the criteria for selecting existing facilities to use as shelters and best available refuge areas (Joplin Recommendation #9).
  3. Guidance that enables communities to create safe and effective public tornado sheltering strategies (Joplin Recommendation #8).
    • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) significantly expanded its tornado safe room guidance (FEMA P-361, 3rd ed.) to include more information on siting, designing, installing and operating public tornado shelters and safe rooms.
    • The ICC published a commentary to their ICC/NSSA Standard for Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC 500-2014) with guidance on design and installation of both residential and community tornado shelters.
  4. Emergency communications guidance adopted by the NFPA.

Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility (2009)

  1. Restrictions on design of membrane-covered frame structures
    • The International Code Council (ICC) changed the International Building Code (IBC) to prohibit consideration of any lateral restraint provided by the membrane in the calculation of the capacities of frame members (adopted in the 2015 IBC).

The Station Nightclub Fire (2003)

  1. Requirements for  automatic water sprinklers were changed significantly.
    • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) changed the model building and fire code to require automatic water sprinklers in existing nightclub facilities with occupant loads greater than 100.  It also required that all new nightclub facilities to be sprinklered.   This was adopted in the 2006 editions of the codes.  
    • The International Code Council (ICC) changed the International Fire Code (IFC) to require assembly occupancies, such as nightclubs, to be sprinklered where occupant loads were greater than 100.  (The previous requirement was greater than 300 occupants.)
  2. Adoption and enforcement of model codes.
    • Rhode Island adopted NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, and strengthened the fire marshal's enforcement power.
  3. Strengthening of restrictions on foam plastic finish material.
    • NIST is working with Underwriters Laboratories, ASTM, and National Fire Protection Association to conduct the research needed to support changes in building and fire codes and standards.  This will be a long term effort as NIST works with multiple standards committees including UL 94, ASTM E84, NFPA 255 and NFPA 286.
  4. Strengthening of restrictions on use of pyrotechnics.
    • Rhode Island strengthened restrictions to prohibit use of pyrotechnics in places of assembly including nightclubs.
  5. Increased factor of safety on egress.
    • NFPA restricted festival seating in new and existing facilities if occupant load is greater than 250, unless life-safety evaluation is conducted (adopted in 2006). 
    • NFPA required trained crowd managers for existing and new assembly occupancies.
  6. Portable fire extinguishers requirement.
    • Rhode Island now requires two 20-pound extinguishers in stage areas.   

World Trade Center (2001)

Jarrell, TX, Tornado (1997)

  • Enhanced Fujita (EF) Tornado Intensity Scale adopted by NOAA's National Weather Service

Northridge Earthquake (1994)

  • Design guidelines for seismic rehabilitation of existing welded steel frame buildings adopted by American Institute of Steel Construction

Hurricane Andrew (1992)

  • Upgraded wind load provisions adopted in HUD's Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards

DuPont Plaza Hotel Fire, San Juan PR (1986)

  • Passage of the Hotel-Motel Sprinkler Act

L' Ambiance Plaza, Hartford CT (1982)

  • Improvements in OSHA's safety and inspection requirements for lift-slab construction


Created July 6, 2016, Updated May 15, 2018