Gov’t asks public for help in World Trade Center investigation

U.S. government investigators say they need more help from the public and news media in their massive investigation of the September 11 destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York. Specifically, officials at the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology want more photographs and videotape that could yield insights into what happened to the collapsed WTC buildings, occupants and first responders.From the National Institute of Standards and Technology:World Trade Center Investigation Off to Solid Start, Commerce’s NIST Reports
Agency Receiving Considerable Cooperation and Data, But Needs More

Officials at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today reported solid progress in the first three months of the agency’s federal building and fire safety investigation into the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster of Sept. 11, 2001. At a press briefing in Washington, D.C., NIST Director Arden Bement Jr. urged the public and news media to help the investigation team acquire more photographs and videotapes that could yield important insights into what happened to the collapsed WTC buildings, occupants and first responders.

“We have a long way to go in what is an enormous undertaking, but we have made good progress since we launched this investigation in late August,” Bement said. “We aim to learn enough by the time it is finished for NIST to point to recommended improvements in the way people design, construct, maintain and use buildings, especially high-rises.”

Bement emphasized that the investigation is only one part of a three-part plan for responding to the WTC disaster. The other two?being conducted concurrently with the investigation?are essential to actually achieving significant improvements to practices, standards and codes. These elements are a research and development program to provide the technical basis for improved building and fire codes, standards and practices; and an information dissemination and technical assistance program involving leaders of the construction and building community and providing practical guidance and tools to better prepare facility owners, contractors, architects, engineers, emergency responders and regulatory authorities to respond to future disasters.

At today’s briefing, NIST released a progress report on the WTC investigation. An online version is available at Key points include:

Data Collection: Throughout its WTC investigation, NIST has consulted extensively with local authorities in New York, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Fire Department of New York, and the New York City Department of Buildings. NIST has asked for?and has already received?considerable cooperation and large volumes of information from these agencies and from the organizations representing the building designers, owners, leaseholders, suppliers, contractors and insurers.

The progress report lists specific types of information that NIST has received. This includes documents related to the design, construction, operation, inspection, maintenance, repair, alterations, emergency response and evacuation of the WTC complex.

However, more information is needed. There are still many documents and materials that have not yet been located or provided. Many of these documents may have been destroyed in the collapses, but copies of some documents still may be available.

NIST is still seeking photographic and video images that could help to better document the initial damage and subsequent fire growth in the WTC towers and WTC 7. The investigation team is especially interested in WTC 7 and views from the south and west faces of the WTC towers.

At today’s briefing, Bement asked the public and news media for help in providing such photos and videos. Efforts to gather photos or videos from media sources, especially unpublished photos and non?broadcast video footage, are in progress. NIST believes that the public and the media could assist significantly in this public safety investigation by sharing their unpublished photos and video footage.

To provide NIST with documents, photographs or other materials, follow the instructions at

NIST also announced that it is moving ahead with its systematic collection of first-hand information from survivors, families of victims and first responders. The WTC investigation team will be using the information collected to evaluate the role of occupant behavior and the evacuation and emergency response technologies and practices for tall buildings.

NIST soon will release a solicitation for help in collecting data and a white paper outlining its collection strategy. This includes face-to-face interviews, paper and Web-based questionnaires, and focus group interviews.

Funding: NIST redirected $3.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2002 to begin a three-part plan in response to the WTC disaster. The agency received $16 million for the investigation in September from the FY 2002 supplemental appropriation. The president requested $4 million from Congress in FY 2003 to support the R&D and information dissemination programs. This request is pending in Congress.

NCST Passage/Advisory Committee: On Oct. 1, 2002, President Bush signed the National Construction Safety Team Act (NCST) into law, establishing NIST as the lead agency to investigate building failures. Providing authorities modeled after those of the National Transportation Safety Board, the NCST applies to the ongoing NIST WTC investigation.

NIST has begun to develop explicit agreements for future investigations with other federal agencies and with private-sector organizations so that it can be ready to deploy investigation teams quickly and effectively.

With the new law in place, NIST has chartered a federal advisory committee to advise the NIST director in carrying out responsibilities under the NCST. More than 80 nominations were submitted. Bement soon will appoint individuals to the advisory committee, which will reflect a balance of the diverse disciplines relevant to NCST investigations.

Communications: NIST has been maintaining an active liaison with the professional community, the general public, the media and New York City authorities. In addition, NIST has designated a special liaison to be in regular contact with the families of building occupants and first responders through the Skyscraper Safety Campaign.

Progress reports like the one today will be issued at least quarterly.

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.

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