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Minutes of April 29, 2003 National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee

The National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee
National Institute of Standards and Technology

Minutes of April 29, 2003, Meeting - Gaithersburg, Maryland

The slides from the presentations are embedded as links to PDF files within this document and, thus, are summarized in these minutes. Each presentation was followed by a discussion period. "Q" indicates a question, "A" the corresponding answer, and "C" a comment. All questions and comments, unless otherwise noted, were made by Advisory Committee members. All answers were by NIST personnel.

Mr. Paul M. Fitzgerald, Committee Interim Chair

Mr. Paul Fitzgerald, the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee interim chair, called the open session to order at 9:00 a.m. and welcomed the attendees. He introduced the first speaker, NIST Director, Dr. Arden Bement, Jr.

Overview of NIST and Expectations for Advisory Committee
Dr. Arden Bement, Jr., Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology


Dr. Bement reviewed safety rules and the location of safety exits. He welcomed the Advisory Committee members to NIST. He then introduced Dr. Jack Snell, the Director of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL). Dr. Snell proceeded to introduce the committee members and the NIST lead investigators of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster and Rhode Island nightclub fire.

Dr. Bement briefly reviewed the NCST Advisory Committee charter, which states that the committee will advise the NIST director on carrying out investigations of building failures, including advice on investigation team composition and function. He noted that the members were selected based on technical expertise and experience, established records of distinguished professional service, and knowledge of issues affecting investigation teams.

He introduced NIST to the committee by describing the role of NIST within the Department of Commerce and listed NIST's assets, expertise, and core programs. NIST has been involved in many prior investigations, including earthquakes, hurricanes, construction and building failures, tornadoes, and fires. NIST's responsibility is to recommend changes to codes, standards, and practices, with the bottom line being to make all buildings safer for occupants and first responders.

Dr. Bement expects that the Advisory Committee will provide sound judgment and counsel and help NIST to think outside the box in analyzing extreme events. He expects the committee to help keep NIST on track in performing its roles under the NCST Act and ensure that the public interest in construction safety is well served.

WTC Response Plan
Dr. Jack E. Snell, Director, Building and Fire Research Laboratory


Dr. Snell presented NIST's public-private plan in response to the WTC disaster. Execution of the plan involves participation by many groups: other government agencies, codes and standards organizations, structural and design engineers, insurance and testing laboratories, fire safety engineers, industry suppliers, academics, public groups, construction industry, and fire and emergency services. This participation is two-way and is continually evolving.

NIST, a nonregulatory agency, has been granted additional investigation authority by the NCST Act (Public Law 107-231). No part of any report resulting from a NIST investigation under the NCST Act can be used in any suit or action for damages arising out of any matter mentioned in such report.

The response plan consists of the WTC investigation, the Research and Development (R&D) Program, and the Dissemination and Technical Assistance (DTAP) Program. The WTC investigation, a 2-year effort, serves as the basis for improvements in the way buildings are designed, constructed, maintained, and used; improved tools, guidance for industry and safety officials; revisions to codes, standards, and practices; and improved public safety, and business and insurance stability. Because the WTC investigation will be addressed by presentations in the afternoon, this presentation focused on the R&D and DTAP components.

The R&D Program covers structural fire protection as well as human behavior and building vulnerability reduction. Dr. Snell noted that R&D projects are funded at a limited level through NIST budget redirection and an increase in fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget. Further funding has been included in the President's FY 2004 budget request, now pending in Congress. NIST is actively seeking support and partnering for a full range of critical needs.

The goal of the DTAP Program is a partnership to engage key national, professional, technical society, and other organizations to define needed changes and take the lead for dissemination, implementation, and assessment of resulting benefits. Dr. Snell described initial activities in FY 2002 and 2003.

NIST Investigation Authorities
Dr. Jack E. Snell, Director, Building and Fire Research Laboratory


Dr. Snell referenced the legislative authorities under which NIST may conduct investigations. He also presented a brief overview of the NCST Act. Under Public Law 99 73, NIST could investigate structural failures, and Public Law 93 498 authorized NIST to conduct fire investigations. With the passage of Public Law 107 231, NIST now has investigative authorities similar to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the responsibility to derive lessons from the fact finding.

The NCST Act was signed into law on October 1, 2002, and applies to the WTC investigation. The Rhode Island nightclub fire in which 100 persons died is the first new investigation initiated under the NCST Act. The investigation teams must include at least one NIST employee and must include other experts who are not employees of NIST, who may include private sector experts, experts from academia, professional organizations, and other government agencies. Teams are responsible for coordinating with search and rescue efforts. NCST investigations have priority over other investigations except for criminal and NTSB investigations.

Q: If there were an issue of a criminal act, would state and local agencies relinquish their authority?
A: Law enforcement agencies do not relinquish authority.

Q: Is there a definition of "building failure"?
A: The act covers natural and manmade building failures. All the law says is that significant loss of life or the potential for significant loss of life within buildings would constitute a building failure. More detailed criteria will appear in the procedures.

Q: Why didn't NIST launch an investigation for the Chicago nightclub event?
A: NIST was not prepared to launch an investigation under the act at that time.

Q: Will you have written criteria for what initiates an investigation?
A: Yes, criteria will be developed and will be published in the Federal Register.

WTC Investigation Plan
Dr. S. Shyam Sunder, Chief, Materials and Construction Research Division


Dr. Sunder is leading the NIST investigation of the WTC disaster of September 11, 2001. He introduced the members of the investigation team and then presented the details of the WTC investigation plan. He briefly reviewed the damage to the towers and the points of impact, showing that the north tower was hit close to the center of the building while the south tower was hit close to the corner and at an angle.

The NIST WTC investigation focuses on WTC 1, 2, and 7. Dr. Sunder described the system design concept of the towers. The column design of the towers considers both gravity and wind loads. The gravity loads are the primary factor in the core column design. The wind loads are the primary factor in the perimeter column design. Fourteen different grades of steel were used.

Dr. Sunder presented the process for developing the investigation plan as well as the objectives, goals, and guiding principles. The investigation has eight projects:

  • Project 1, Analysis of Building and Fire Codes and Practices
  • Project 2, Baseline Structural Performance and Aircraft Impact Damage Analysis
  • Project 3, Metallurgical and Mechanical Analysis of Structural Steel
  • Project 4, Investigation of Active Fire Protection Systems
  • Project 5, Reconstruction of Thermal and Tenability Environment
  • Project 6, Structural Fire Response and Collapse Analysis\
  • Project 7, Occupant Behavior, Egress, and Emergency Communication
  • Project 8, Fire Service Technologies and Guidelines

Dr. Sunder explained the scope of the eight projects and their interdependencies. In addition, he noted that each project relies on inputs from many sources, including other government agencies (federal, state, and local); industry; professional, academic, and technical organizations; and the public. The types of inputs include documents, material evidence, photographic and video records, oral history data, emergency response records, and recovered structural steel.

The desired outcomes are to make buildings safer, enhance the safety of fire and emergency responders, better protect occupants and property, and provide better emergency response capabilities and procedures.

The WTC investigation started on August 21, 2002, and the final report is scheduled for release after the investigation is completed in August 2004.

Q: How will you deal with information from Projects 7 and 8 as it relates to post-impact conditions?
A: Validation of the analysis results will occur about 6 months from now; information from Projects 7 and 8 will help with the observables for this validation.

Q: Some of the tests have dependencies on improved models. Is that a barrier?
A: That is a concern. We have a well-defined scheduling system in place to identify and address problems with interdependencies before they occur.

Q: Project 6 involves physical testing. How can you replicate testing on materials that were made years ago? In 2003, there are different steels, techniques, and fireproofing. How do you plan for the future?
A: The R&D Program is addressing today's fireproofing technology. The testing in Project 3 will produce data on the WTC steel. We'll use ASTM specifications for tests, and we're getting fireproofing materials data from the original suppliers.

Q: Data acquisition is a concern, particularly from human subjects. Do you have a plan if human behavior aspect does not proceed well during information gathering?
A: Participation in the interviews is voluntary. Extensive attention is being paid to privacy, Institutional Review Board, etc. NIST recently participated in a public meeting in New York City to present its plans and encourage the voluntary participation of WTC employers and occupants in this important data collection effort.

Q: How comfortable are you with the remaining 10-month schedule and remaining funds?
A: We will make every effort to meet the schedule and are very close to where we should be. We need to be sharper at prioritizing and may move some efforts to the Research & Development Program. We are making good progress in our contracting process.

Q: Will some tasks be pushed into the following year's R&D?
A: Perhaps only a portion of a subtask would be moved. For example, the open-web joist system application could be R&D. We are reviewing and refining the scope of the tasks as needed.

C: You are dealing with two ongoing investigations with the alpha and omega of scopes (WTC is big and the Rhode Island nightclub is small). At any time, another failure could occur that would affect these investigations. These would need to be prioritized in order to continue to go forward.

WTC Investigation Progress
Dr. S. Shyam Sunder, Chief, Materials and Construction Research Division


Dr. Sunder reported on status of the WTC investigation. Since the beginning of the investigation, NIST has made a major effort in collecting data of all types (documents, photographs, videos, oral histories, recovered WTC steel). It has received considerable cooperation and large volumes of information from a variety of organization and agencies such as building designers, owners, leaseholders, suppliers, contractors, insurers, local New York City authorities, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. NIST has a number of requests for materials that are pending with, or not yet located by, several organizations. The amount of data received thus far provides a solid foundation of technical evidence for review, analysis, modeling, and testing work. NIST is working to access missing crucial information from different sources.

An interim report on the fireproofing used in the WTC towers' floor system was completed under Project 6. The report presents facts without interpretation to the maximum extent possible. Dr. Sunder stressed that nothing in the report should be taken to imply that the floor trusses played a critical role in the collapse of the towers. That issue remains a key component of the ongoing investigation, and he noted that additional factual information and analysis are needed. Issues covered in the report include applicable building codes, building classification and fire rating requirements, fireproofing methods, fireproofing thickness requirements, the need for fire endurance testing, and fire testing of a similar floor system. The report will be updated as additional information is collected and reviewed.

Fire model validation experiments and fire testing of the WTC floor system in the towers are being conducted under Project 5. NIST is conducting experiments to provide input to its analytical and numerical work, including the validation of those results. NIST is reviewing previously completed tests on open-web bar joists systems and is documenting past performance using available fire incident and insurance investigation reports. Experiments are being conducted to determine the mechanical properties of steel and fireproofing materials. NIST will perform large-compartment fire tests to validate fire dynamics and thermal-structural analyses. A series of office work station fire tests based on descriptions of furnishings used in WTC office space are planned to simulate fire dynamics. In addition, fire endurance testing of a typical floor system and individual steel members will be conducted under Project 6.

Dr. Sunder discussed the methodology for assessing the most probable structural collapse sequence. NIST is using a formal approach to analyzing complex failure sequences in WTC 1, 2, and 7 that combines mathematical, statistical, and probabilistic methods.

NIST has been acquiring and cataloging steel from the WTC towers and has nearly 250 pieces. This represents roughly 1/4 to 1/2 percent by weight of the approximately 200,000 tons of steel used in the towers. Dr. Sunder believes that this amount is adequate for the purposes of the investigation.

The photographic and video image collection is extensive. Dr. Sunder stated that NIST has cataloged more than 3,100 photographs and 3,400 video clips from professional and amateur sources as well as from New York City Police and Fire Departments. He pointed out that more images are still needed, especially close-up details of fire conditions; images of the airplanes approaching and entering; WTC 7, particularly the south face; and views from the south and west faces of WTC towers. He hopes that the media outlets and the public can provide these images.

NIST's study of WTC evacuation and emergency response requires a systematic collection of first-person data from survivors, families of victims, and individuals with operational and command authority. This effort, being done under Projects 7 and 8, will involve face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, and focus groups. Survey instruments (questionnaires) will be developed for the telephone interviews to obtain statistically representative and generalizable data. Dr. Sunder noted that NIST is cooperating with complementary evacuation studies being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Columbia University, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Progress on the NIST WTC investigation includes the development of a tenant list and attendance at an April 2003 public meeting in New York City to present study plans to the public and elicit participation of WTC employers and occupants.

Dr. Sunder explained the process for the selection of external experts and contractors. He emphasized that sole source awards are considered only when there is one uniquely qualified source or when the need is urgent and compelling.

Q: Can you characterize the reasons why data is not forthcoming?
A: New York City has been very cooperative and has provided much material. There is some data from the fire and police departments that is still under review. These entities have claimed privilege for these materials in ongoing litigation. We are negotiating with the fire and police departments to make it possible to receive these additional materials. Media organizations may have concerns about sharing information because of First Amendment rights.

Q: What is the involvement of the Office of Emergency Management?
A: They supplied an aviation video in the initial stages, but have had a limited role since then. They do not have much information during or immediately after the collapse.

Q: Why would the survey instruments have to go through Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review, but the face-to-face interviews would not?
A: The face-to face interviews do not need Paperwork Reduction Act clearance because a survey instrument will not be used. They will be unstructured interviews.

Q: What is your plan for OMB review in the timeline?
A: We are using the emergency review, which is 30 days. Our review for enumeration has been approved. We are preparing now for our future requests.

Q: For the validation tests, what is the scale of the large compartment tests?
A: We are planning for a box that is about 1,000 cubic meters with larger tests to come.

Q: Will you go to larger than normal scale for fire endurance?
A: That will depend on who responded to the solicitation and what is available.

Q: Are there pieces of WTC steel that you would like to have that you don't?
A: We have samples of all grades that were present in the buildings. We are short on truss material. We have samples of truss seat.

C: For a data wish list, it would be good to elicit information from the interviews on fire damage and smoke.
A: Agree, that would be a factor, but it's not the dominant element.

Q: There are currently 11 contract solicitations. How many more are expected?
A: We are planning about five or six more.

Q: How long is the process?
A: It takes about 3 to 4 weeks to prepare the statement of work. It may take a couple of months before the contract is awarded after the solicitation is posted on FedBizOpps.

Q: Can the process be sped up?
A: Probably not. The NIST Director has established a Secretariat to help find ways to resolve problems. We use scheduling tools to identify and resolve critical path problems.
C: The timeline does not appear realistic. It seems too short to conduct work and integrate results.

Q: Do you have logs of modifications to the buildings to do adequate fire modeling?
A: One tenant has agreed to provide data to help with this. Others are in the process of being contacted.

Q: Are there plans to use the hearing process under the act as a means of obtaining data?
A: We have no plans at this time for holding hearings.

Q: Elaborate what is meant by not interpreting the information on fireproofing.
A: We are attempting to depict the facts as represented in the documents.

Q: It appears that you've received a large amount of data. Are you scanning all the documents you're receiving?
A: We do not have the resources to scan all the documents, but we are cataloging the material.

Q: Are you getting information from occupants on the contents for fire loads?
A: The occupants will give us general information.

Q: Don't you mean the information will come from tenant organizations, not occupants?
A: Yes.

Rhode Island Nightclub Fire Investigation
Dr. William L. Grosshandler, Chief, Fire Research Division


Dr. Grosshandler is leading the NIST investigation of The Station Nightclub Fire that occurred in West Warwick, Rhode Island on February 20, 2003. He introduced the NIST members of the investigation team and identified the state and local agencies that are participating as well as federal agency liaisons.

He noted that under the NCST Act, NIST must relinquish investigative priority in the event of a criminal investigation. NIST is assessing how this will affect the Rhode Island investigation and its schedule. The purpose of the investigation is to establish the likely cause of the building failure that led to a high number of casualties. Specific tasks include establishment of initial conditions, materials testing, reconstruction of thermal and tenability environment, determination of occupant behavior and egress, documentation of emergency response, examination of the impact of sprinklers on survivability, and identification of building and fire code that warrant revision.

Q: Are you looking at other codes in addition to the Life Safety Code?
A: Yes, we will look at other codes and standards covered by NFPA and the International Code Council.

Q: Regarding occupant behavior, are you looking outside of the building as well as egress?
A: That sounds like a good idea; we will consider that.

Q: Was there a fire alarm?
A: Yes, it appears in the video but the type is not known.

Q: Was there more than one egress path?
A: There were four egress paths.

Q: Was there evidence that the supplemental exits were locked or blocked?
A: No, but we will verify that.

C: Consider evaluating the contents of the bar and how it was arranged. Contents are important to fire development and occupant behavior. Look at the tables and chairs—were they moveable, fixed, etc. It makes a big difference in egress. The location of fatalities should also be analyzed. Include the type and location of where people were injured in the facility—was it going through windows, why were they going through windows, etc. This can yield clues to the decision processes and the fire development.
A: Those are good points.

Q: How much autopsy data is available?
A: We are working with the medical examiners of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and we do not yet have the data.

C: Evaluate the rate of fire growth as if it were a code compliant building. Take out the initiator.
A: We'll consider that idea.

Q: What is the timeline for the investigation?
A: The schedule is not final yet, although the Tentative Interim Amendments to NFPA 101-2003 are time sensitive.

Q: For the materials testing over a range of heat fluxes, are there correlations in standard setups that could relate to the pyrotechnics?
A: Other than acting as an ignition source, they would not be significant. They are a high-temperature, low-energy ignition source. We will check on the significance of this ignition source.

National Construction Safety Team Act Implementation
Dr. James E. Hill, Deputy Director, Building and Fire Research Laboratory


Dr. Hill presented details on the funding and annual operating costs of implementing the NCST Act. An Interim Final Rule was published in the Federal Register on January 30, 2003, and covered collection, preservation, and protection of evidence collected and information created. NIST has prepared a Proposed Rule to address initial reconnaissance by NIST staff, criteria for establishing a team, size and composition of a team, and typical tasks in an investigation. NIST is preparing additional implementing procedures and staff are attending NTSB Academy training sessions. NIST is establishing formal relationships with other federal agencies and private organizations.

Q: Would ATF be part of your team?
A: Yes, that is a possibility.

Q: Have you looked at the Chemical Hazards Board model?
A: We have looked at that. We have an arrangement with ATF.

C: USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) efforts are coordinated through FEMA. It is essential that fire services understand the role of other groups doing investigations and that efforts are coordinated.
A: FEMA is giving a training class in May and is planning to visit NIST. We are working with other agencies to develop relationships.

C: (Snell) The House Committee Report provides insight into the difficulties of implementing the act. It says "why" but not "how."

Public Comment Period

Mr. Fitzgerald stated the ground rules for public comments. Each speaker has 5 minutes, and members of the public may submit their comments in writing at the meeting or at any time. He called the first speaker to the podium, Ms. Monica Gabrielle, who read a prepared statement.

Monica Gabrielle, Skyscraper Safety Campaign
STATEMENT (pdf file)

Mr. Fitzgerald called the next speaker, Mr. Robert Polk, who read a prepared statement.

Robert Polk, Consumer Product Safety Commission
STATEMENT (pdf file)

Colleen Delaney, New York and Rhode Island resident
Written comments submitted as part of the record for the meeting

Mr. Fitzgerald thanked the presenters, attendees, and speakers. He adjourned the open session of the meeting at 4:30 p.m.

Paul M. Fitzgerald
Interim Chairperson


Advisory Committee
Barsom, John
Bryan, John
Collins, David
Corbett, Glenn
DiNenno, Philip
Fitzgerald, Paul (interim chair)
Hanson, Robert
Tierney, Kathleen

Snell, Jack, Designated Federal Official

NIST Management
Bement, Arden
Brown, Karen

BFRL WTC Disaster Study Secretariat
Heyman, Matthew
Hill, James
Lieberman, Melissa
Newman, Michael
Rubin, Michael

WTC Investigation
Averill, Jason
Banovic, Stephen
Boisvert, Ronald
Butler, Kathryn
Carino, Nicholas
Fields, Richards
Filliben, James
Gann, Richard
Gayle, Frank
Gross, John
Kuligowski, Erica
Lawson, James R.
Lew, H.S.
Luecke, William
McAllister, Therese
Nelson, Harold
Peacock, Richard
Sadek, Fahim
Simiu, Emil
Starnes, Monica
Sunder, Shyam
Vettori, Robert

Rhode Island Investigation
Bryner, Nelson
Grosshandler, William
Madrzykowski, Daniel

WTC Administrative Support
Cavanaugh, Sydel
Cauffman, Stephen
Sawyer, Cheri
Soverow, Walter

Public Commentors
Gabrielle, Monica, Skyscraper Safety Campaign
Polk, Robert, Consumer Product Safety Task Force, National Association of State Fire Marshals

Created July 1, 2010, Updated August 25, 2016