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NIST Details First-Person Data Collection Projects for WTC Investigation

Commerce Agency Needs Participation from Survivors, First-Responders and Families of Victims

At a press briefing in New York City today, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) detailed its plans to collect first-person data to study occupant behavior and evacuation, and emergency response as part of the federal building and fire safety investigation of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The data collection will be done with up to 575 face-to-face interviews, 800 phone interviews and 15 focus groups.

"This is an ambitious undertaking and will need the active participation of WTC survivors, first responders to the disaster and family members who were in contact with WTC victims in order to be successful," said Shyam Sunder, lead investigator for NIST.

NIST will be contacting survivors and first responders directly to ask them to share their experiences. Survivors, retired first responders and family members who communicated with victims after the aircraft impacts also are being asked to contact NIST toll-free at (877) 221-7828 to learn if and how they can volunteer to participate. The personal privacy and confidentiality of individual respondents will be protected to the maximum extent permitted by law.

The two NIST field data collection projects, one focused on occupant evacuation (.pdf) and the other on emergency response (.pdf), are different from—but complement and are being coordinated with—other studies also collecting and analyzing first-person accounts. They are designed to provide the information and materials critical to improving practices, standards and codes for evacuation and emergency response in extreme events. This will help NIST reach the overall goal of its WTC investigation: improvements in the way people design, construct, maintain and use buildings, especially high-rise buildings.

Among the areas for which the interview data could facilitate improvements are:

  • occupant behavior and evacuation technologies and practices for tall buildings;
  • decision-making and situation awareness (for both evacuees and first-responders);
  • the design of egress systems;
  • the role of floor wardens and fire safety directors;
  • the evacuation of people with disabilities;
  • firefighting technologies and practices for tall buildings;
  • command, control and communication systems for emergency response; and
  • the content, timing and quality of emergency communications (among occupants and authorities, within and outside buildings, and for intra- and inter-group communications).

Under the National Construction Safety Team Act (NCST), signed into law in October 2002, NIST is authorized to investigate major building failures in the United States. The NIST investigations will establish the likely technical causes of the building failure and evaluate the technical aspects of emergency response and evacuation procedures in the wake of such failures.

A comprehensive Web site on the NIST WTC investigation is at  

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade and improve the quality of life. For more information on NIST, visit

Released September 17, 2003, Updated January 7, 2021