The best way to prevent buildings, bridges and other structures from collapsing—whether because of natural forces, human error or malicious attacks—is to learn from the past. NIST studies disasters to help engineers, local governments, first responders and communities understand how to avoid future tragedies.
For more than 40 years, NIST has sent investigative teams to the sites of major disasters and failures to study building and infrastructure performance and emergency response and evacuation procedures. These investigators find the technical causes of building failures and evaluate the technical aspects of emergency response and evacuation procedures in the wake of blasts, earthquakes, fires windstorms, and more. Their findings are essential for reducing future loss of life and property in these types of disasters.
NIST has participated in investigations of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center; the 2011 Joplin tornado; the 2012 Waldo Canyon wildfire; the 2007 Charleston Sofa Superstore fire and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, among others. By working to understand what leads to structural failures and making that information public, NIST engineers and researchers help prevent similar failures by enabling changes in practices, standards and codes that enhance the health and safety of all Americans.