National Construction Safety Team Act
The National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act, signed into law on Oct. 1, 2002, authorizes NIST to establish teams to investigate the failure of a building or buildings that has resulted in substantial loss of life or that posed significant potential for substantial loss of life. As a non-regulatory agency, NIST does not consider findings of fault, responsibility, or negligence. Investigations are conducted under the Act's authorities to improve the safety and structural integrity of buildings in the United States. In this context, the Act gives NIST and its Teams comprehensive investigative authorities to: access the site of a building disaster; subpoena evidence; access key pieces of evidence such as records and documents; and move and preserve evidence.
A National Construction Safety Team shall carryout of the following duties:
- Establish the likely technical cause or causes of the building failure;
- Evaluate the technical aspects of evacuation and emergency response procedures;
- Recommend, as necessary, specific improvements to building standards, codes, and practices based on the findings;
- Recommend any research and other appropriate actions needed to improve the structural safety of buildings, and improve evacuation and emergency response procedures, based on the findings of the investigation.
The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act
With the enactment of the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015, on September 30, 2015, NIST has been designated as the Lead Agency for the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP). Other designated Program agencies are the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has also participated in NWIRP from its inception with PL 108-360 in 2004. Other federal agencies are invited to participate in NWIRP activities; among those already involved are the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Department of Energy (DoE), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) . Summaries of past NWIRP activities are available in the Program’s biennial reports to Congress.
NWIRP was established by Congress “…to achieve major measurable reductions in the losses of life and property from windstorms through a coordinated Federal effort, in cooperation with other levels of government, academia, and the private sector, aimed at improving the understanding of windstorms and their impacts and developing and encouraging the implementation of cost-effective mitigation measures to reduce those impacts.”
As the lead agency of NWIRP, NIST has the primary responsibility for planning and coordinating the Program. This responsibility includes:
Ensuring that the Program includes the necessary components to promote the implementation of windstorm risk reduction measures;
Supporting the development of performance-based engineering tools, and working with appropriate groups to promote the commercial application of such tools;
Requesting the assistance of Federal agencies other than the Program agencies, as necessary;
Coordinating all Federal post-windstorm investigations to the extent practicable; and
When warranted by research or investigative findings, issuing recommendations to assist in informing the development of model codes, and providing information to Congress on the use of such recommendations.
Basis of the NCST Investigation
Hurricane Maria represented a unique opportunity to collect perishable data on damage to buildings and infrastructure, as well as the performance of the emergency management system in the field. Specifically, this event had the following features that warranted NIST to deploy a preliminary reconnaissance team in December of 2017:
- Extreme winds experienced over the entire island, including peak gusts of 225+ kilometers per hour (140+ miles per hour) in the vicinity of San Juan;
- Extensive damage to utilities and transportation, communication and education infrastructure, much of which was still not operational months after the storm; and
- Evacuation and sheltering challenges for an event impacting the entire island, including warning communications and public response.
This investigation will result in recommendations for improved codes, standards, and practices, in order to strengthen buildings and infrastructure in hurricane-prone area, save lives, and protect property in future storms.