The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has added new experts to the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) investigating the June 24, 2021, partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Florida. NIST has also scheduled the next meeting of the NCST Advisory Committee for June.
Miami-based N. Emel Ganapati will serve as the social science team leader on the Evidence Preservation Project and will lead interviews of residents, first responders, family members and others with knowledge of the building’s condition and collapse events. Ganapati is an associate professor of public policy and administration and the director of the Laboratory for Social Science Research, International Hurricane Research Center, at Florida International University. She specializes in disaster recovery and mitigation, as well as sea level rise adaptation. She holds a master’s degree in planning from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in planning from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“This social science component of the investigation will support the technical work by helping us refine or disprove the hypotheses the team has developed, or perhaps give us new leads,” said Ganapati. “Hearing from a variety of people who have different perspectives and memories of the event, and of the building over time, can help fill any holes in our understanding that quantitative measurements cannot fill.”
NIST expects the investigation to take at least two years, as every piece of evidence must be thoroughly analyzed, and all hypotheses evaluated. The team will release a draft report for public comment once it has determined the likely cause of the collapse and developed any recommendations for improvements to building standards, codes and practices, as well as for research and other appropriate actions that could improve the structural safety of buildings.
“This is one of the most complex building failure investigations ever undertaken,” said Judith Mitrani-Reiser, who co-leads the investigation. “We have an incredible team of experts who are working diligently to study the evidence that will help us understand exactly what occurred at Champlain Towers South and how we can make buildings safer.”
Ganapati joins a team of accomplished experts, including one of the newest elected members of the National Academy of Engineering, Youssef Hashash, who joined the team last year and is co-leader of the investigation’s Geotechnical Engineering Project.
The biographies of 21 support team members have been added to the team page, which provides details of their expertise in building failures and deep understanding of structural engineering, materials science, data collection and analysis and more.
“Hearing from a variety of people who have different perspectives and memories of the event, and of the building over time, can help fill any holes in our understanding that quantitative measurements cannot fill.” —N. Emel Ganapati, social science team leader, Evidence Preservation Project
NIST received $22 million in supplemental funding from Congress to support the investigation. As of the end of January 2022, NIST has allocated about 40% to fund activities this fiscal year.
In November 2021, team co-leads Mitrani-Reiser and Glenn Bell gave presentations to the NCST Advisory Committee, which includes experts selected for their technical expertise and experience, established records of distinguished professional service, and knowledge of issues affecting NIST’s disaster studies and NCST investigations. The slides and a video of their presentations include details of this complex investigation.
On Dec. 15, 2021, the advisory committee submitted a report to Congress that noted, “NIST has assembled an extremely strong team of experts, both within NIST and from the outside, who are experienced and very accomplished in their respective fields.”
The committee also wrote, “In contrast to prior NCST investigations, the cause of the Champlain Towers South failure will not be known until completion of the investigations, since there was not an obvious extraordinary initiating event. This complexity is important for the public to understand as families and other community members wait for answers. Many of the projects underway by NIST will not be able to provide solid answers until they reach near completion.”
NIST will continue to provide public updates on the investigation’s progress through a variety of media. All previous updates and related materials on the Champlain Towers South Investigation can be found on the investigation webpages, under News and Updates.
NIST’s own annual report to Congress was recently posted to the NIST website, and details the criteria NIST used to launch its investigation under the NCST Act.
The next NCST Advisory Committee meeting will be held June 8-9, 2022. The meeting is open to the public, but those who wish to attend must register in advance by May 31, 2022, according to the instructions in the Federal Register notice published today.
NIST continues to collect and review information from the public and encourages anyone with photos, videos or other information to submit their materials through the NIST Disaster and Failure Studies Data Portal.