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Agreements to Facilitate NIST WTC Investigation

The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced that it has reached an agreement with the City of New York (NYC) that will allow NIST to review additional information related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC). That information includes NYC 9-1-1 tapes and the transcripts of approximately 500 interviews of employees of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) who were involved in WTC emergency response activities. The review of materials will take place at NYC offices.

A second agreement enables NIST to collect its own first-person data from New York City's WTC first responders.

Data obtained from the 9-1-1 tapes, the NYC interviews and the NIST interviews will be used to study occupant behavior and evacuation, and emergency response as part of the agency's federal building and fire safety investigation of the WTC disaster. Under the National Construction Safety Team Act (NCST), the NIST Director has taken action to protect the privacy of the information it receives by the two agreements.

"These agreements mark an important step forward to realizing the goal of this portion of our WTC investigation—improving practices, standards and codes for evacuation and emergency response in extreme events," said NIST Director Arden Bement Jr. "They bring us closer to achieving the desired outcome for our overall WTC response plan: improvements in the way people design, construct, maintain and use buildings, especially high-rise buildings." NIST reached the agreements working with the NYC Law Department.

With the agreements in place, NYC will provide NIST investigators with access to the tapes and transcripts no later than Dec. 31, 2003. Some materials—including those dealing with specific individuals' identities, detailing the emotional state or emotional reaction of a specific person, or having involvement in any current criminal investigation or prosecution—will be excluded.

NIST expects to begin its interviews of FDNY and New York Police Department (NYPD) employees shortly. Working closely with NYC, NIST will identify the interview candidates who are most knowledgeable in the subject areas where information is needed.

NIST will conduct two types of interviews with FDNY and NYPD personnel: face-to-face and focus group. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission) will participate with NIST in the interview process.

Among the areas for which the NIST-collected 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, 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 and related work to improve the safety of buildings and their occupants and first responders 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 October 31, 2003, Updated January 7, 2021