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.
40+ NIST-led investigations of events involving blast and impact, structural failures, earthquakes, fires, windstorms and coastal floods since 1969, resulting in more than 40 significant changes to building codes and design guidelines
"The building disaster and failure studies conducted by NIST (and its predecessor, NBS) have allowed the engineering community to identify areas needing more attention, improvement and research. NFPA has been a beneficiary of those studies as we continuously look to ensure that our codes and standards reflect the latest thinking, technology and understanding as it relates to building performance."
— Robert Solomon, Division Manager for Building and Life Safety Codes, National Fire Protection Association
“As stewards of infrastructure, civil engineers rely on data to garner insights that help us do our work better. NIST is a valuable partner in providing information that serves as the technical basis for improved standards, codes, and practices used in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure systems. We utilize NIST’s post-disaster studies to improve the resilience of the nation’s built environment and better protect the health, safety, and welfare of the communities we serve.”
— Norma Mattei President, American Society of Civil Engineers
“The foundation of community resilience is proper planning. Up-to-date building codes that reflect the most recent knowledge and experience are an important part of that strategy... Without cooperation and input from NIST and others, our job would be exponentially more difficult.”
— Dominic Sims CEO, International Code Council