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)
- Tornado hazard maps and tornado load provisions have been developed and adopted into the American Society of Civil Engineers ASCE 7-22 standard, which forms the design load basis for building codes in the U.S. The International Code Council (ICC) storm shelter standard, ICC 500-2020, was expanded to include shelters constructed in existing buildings, and tornado shelters are now required per the International Building Code (IBC) in new schools and emergency response facilities across parts of 22 states covering the most tornado-prone regions of the U.S. A means for continuous improvement of the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale has been established through a joint ASCE and American Meteorological Society (AMS) committee developing a new standard on Wind Speed Estimation in Tornadoes and Other Windstorms, which includes the EF-Scale Method and several others. Guidance on emergency alerts and warning messages has been developed and incorporated into the NFPA 1600 and 1616 Standards on emergency management and mass evacuations and sheltering.
- 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).
- Building safety considerations were added to the criteria for selecting existing facilities to use as shelters and best available refuge areas (Joplin Recommendation #9).
- 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.
- Emergency communications guidance adopted by the NFPA.
Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility (2009)
- 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).
Station Nightclub Fire (2003)
- 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.)
- Adoption and enforcement of model codes.
- Rhode Island adopted NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, and strengthened the fire marshal's enforcement power.
- 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.
- Strengthening of restrictions on use of pyrotechnics.
- Rhode Island strengthened restrictions to prohibit use of pyrotechnics in places of assembly including nightclubs.
- 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.
- Portable fire extinguishers requirement.
- Rhode Island now requires two 20-pound extinguishers in stage areas.
World Trade Center (2001)
- A total of 40 code changes, consistent with the recommendations, were adopted in the 2009 and the 2012 editions of the I-Codes (International Building Code [IBC]) and International Fire Code, [IFC]). The I-Codes are a state-of-the-art model code used as the basis for building and fire regulations promulgated and enforced by all 50 U.S. states and key local jurisdictions. NFPA has adopted 10 additional WTC-related changes in the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) used in 39 states, and two changes in the Uniform Fire Code (NFPA 1) used in 20 states. In 2022, a draft Standard for Mitigation of Disproportionate Collapse Potential in Buildings and Other Structures was completed and released for public comments by the American Society of Civil Engineers/Structural Engineering Institute (ASCE/SEI) Disproportionate Collapse Mitigation Standard Committee. This standard is pending publication in the summer of 2022. Additionally, revisions to existing standards on wind tunnel testing and estimation of wind loads and effects on buildings were completed and incorporated into ASCE 49-21 and ASCE 7-22, respectively.
- Changes to ICC Building Codes Consistent with Recommendations from NIST's WTC Towers Investigation (Approved at the Final Action Hearings of the International Code Council, May 2010)
- Changes to ICC Building and Fire Codes Consistent with Recommendations from NIST's WTC Towers Investigation (Approved at the Final Action Hearings of the International Code Council Minneapolis, Minn., September 15-21, 2008)
- Changes to the NFPA Building and Fire Codes Consistent with Recommendations from NIST's WTC Investigation (Approved at the NFPA Annual Meeting and Standards Council Action on 2009 Documents, July 2008)
Jarrell, TX, Tornado (1997)
- the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Tornado Intensity Scale was adopted by NOAA's National Weather Service.
Northridge Earthquake (1994)
- Design guidelines for seismic rehabilitation of existing welded steel frame buildings were adopted by American Institute of Steel Construction
Hurricane Andrew (1992)
- Upgraded wind load provisions were 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 were made to OSHA's safety and inspection requirements for lift-slab construction