Studying reports

Important sources in determining the current standard of care are studies and reports issued by governmental agencies investigating the causes, effects, and conclusions reached from the collapse of the World Trade Center. These studies focused on various construction issues that were relevant to the collapse. These included:

  • Structural Framing Systems – Whether the building frames have redundancy for transmitting loads after the structure has been damaged.
  • Fireproofing – The impact of fire and fireproofing on steel members.
  • Egress Systems –Redundancy of systems and robustness in the face of an impact by a foreign object.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) funded one of the more comprehensive studies, whose goal was to develop a road map for changes to existing building codes, standards, and designs. NIST “strongly urges” that buildings be evaluated regarding the listed recommendations, and that steps to mitigate unwarranted risks should be taken without waiting for changes in codes, standards, and practices. A producer, particularly outside New York, providing elements to such a project ignores the report at its own peril.

    New York leaders have made a determined effort to upgrade their building codes to incorporate lessons learned from the 9/11 disaster. In 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Local Law 26 of 2004, which incorporated most of the recommendations of the World Trade Building Code Task Force. The law is not only prospective for new construction, but includes retroactive requirements for existing buildings of a certain size, usually higher than 75 feet.

    The New York City Building Code, which incorporates Local Law 26, is a baseline to measure an engineer's actions. It has technology advances more rapidly than building codes, engineers must identify construction practices and technological advances which should be used in new construction.

    Putting codes to the test

    The new code has already affected new construction design. Architects substantially modified The Time Warner headquarters in Manhattan to enhance security. They increased the number of the building's structural columns encased in concrete to improve its capability to withstand the impact of an explosion or the effects of a fire. Also in Manhattan, the CIBC Tower had additional steel plates welded to the structural columns of the building to resist lateral forces from a bomb blast.

    At a minimum, engineers contemplating the construction of a major office building in any city must be aware of the safety and technological features currently being incorporated in New York structures for similar buildings under their review for construction.

    Since 9/11, many architects, engineers, and other construction experts have written about this issue. A resource which is quickly becoming the standard textbook on the issue is Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning & Design by Barbara A. Nadel. It covers security through the spectrum of building types, planning and design, and construction technology, as well as building codes and legal issues.

    — Raymond Mellon is a partner at Zetlin & De Chiara, a New York-headquartered law firm providing legal and business counseling to the design, construction, and real estate industries. Mellon is a frequent writer and lecturer. You can contact him