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NIST Issues "Call to Action" to Building and Fire Safety Community and Standards Groups with Recommendations in WTC Investigation Report

Public comment period ends August 4, 2005

New York, Jun 23, 2005

During a press conference today in New York City, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) called on the organizations that develop building and fire safety codes, standards and practices—and the state and local agencies that adopt them—to make specific changes to improve the safety of tall buildings, their occupants and first responders. NIST is releasing thirty recommendations resulting from the agency’s investigation of the fires and collapses of New York City’s World Trade Center (WTC) towers following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We believe these recommendations are both realistic and achievable within a reasonable period of time, and should greatly improve the way people design, construct, maintain and use buildings, especially high-rises,” said WTC Lead Investigator Shyam Sunder. “The recommendations also should lead to safer and more effective building evacuations and emergency responses. However, improvements will only be realized if they are acted upon by the appropriate organizations.”

The recommendations, contained within 43 draft reports (totaling some 10,000 pages) released today for a six-week public comment period, cover:

  • specific improvements to building standards, codes and practices;
  • changes to, or the establishment of, evacuation and emergency response procedures; and
  • research and other appropriate actions needed to help prevent future building failures.

The recommendations (see the NIST WTC Web site at for the complete list) are divided into eight groups:

Increased Structural Integrity: The standards for estimating the load effects of potential hazards (e.g., progressive collapse, wind) and the design of structural systems to mitigate the effects of those hazards should be improved to enhance structural integrity.

Enhanced Fire Resistance of Structures: The procedures and practices used to ensure the fire resistance of structures should be enhanced by improving the technical basis for construction classifications and fire resistance ratings; improving the technical basis for standard fire resistance testing methods; using the “structural frame” approach to fire resistance ratings; and developing in-service performance requirements and conformance criteria for spray-applied fire resistive materials (SFRMs, commonly referred to as “fireproofing” or “insulation”).

New Methods for Fire Resistance Design of Structures: The procedures and practices used in the design of structures for fire resistance should be enhanced by requiring an objective that uncontrolled fires result in burnout without local or global collapse. Performance-based methods are an alternative to prescriptive design methods. This effort should include: (1) the development and evaluation of new fire resistive coating materials and technologies, and (2) the evaluation of the fire performance of conventional and high-performance structural materials (such as fire-resistant steels and concretes). Technical and standards barriers to the introduction of new materials and technologies should be eliminated.

Active Fire Protection: Active fire protection systems (i.e., sprinklers, standpipes/hoses, fire alarms and smoke management systems) should be enhanced through improvements to design, performance, reliability and redundancy of such systems.

Improved Building Evacuation: The process of evacuating a building should be improved to include system designs that facilitate safe and rapid egress; methods for ensuring clear and timely emergency communications to occupants; better occupant preparedness for evacuation during emergencies; and incorporation of appropriate egress technologies.

Improved Emergency Response: Technologies and procedures for emergency response should be improved to enable better access to buildings, response operations, emergency communications, and command and control in large-scale emergencies.

Improved Procedures and Practices: The procedures and practices used in the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of buildings should be improved to include encouraging code compliance by nongovernmental and quasi-governmental entities; adoption and application of egress and sprinkler requirements in codes for existing buildings; and retention and availability of building documents over the life of a building.

Education and Training: The professional skills of building and fire safety professionals should be upgraded through a national education and training effort for fire protection engineers, structural engineers and architects.

NIST strongly urges that immediate and serious consideration be given to these recommendations by the building and fire safety communities—especially designers, owners, developers, codes and standards development organizations, regulators, fire safety professionals, and emergency responders. NIST also strongly urges building owners and public officials to (1) evaluate the safety implications of these recommendations to their existing inventory of buildings; and (2) take the steps necessary to mitigate any unwarranted risks without waiting for changes to occur in codes, standards and practices. NIST further urges state and local agencies to rigorously enforce building codes and standards since such enforcement is critical to ensure the expected level of safety.

NIST is assigning top priority to work vigorously with these communities to ensure that there is a complete understanding of the recommendations and their technical basis and to provide needed technical assistance for their implementation. As part of this effort, NIST will develop and maintain a web-based system with information on the status of NIST’s recommendations that will be available to the public so that progress in implementing them can be tracked.

Submit comments
NIST welcomes comments on the draft reports and recommendations, which must be received by 5 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 4, 2005. Comments (instructions for submission are available at on the Web page above) may be submitted via:

  • a link on the WTC Investigation Web site,;
  • e-mail to;
  • fax to (301) 975-6122; or
  • surface mail to WTC Technical Information Repository, Attn: Mr. Stephen Cauffman, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8610, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8610.

NIST’s investigation of the WTC towers fires and collapses was conducted under the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act. The act gives NIST the responsibility for conducting fact-finding investigations of building-related failures that result in substantial loss of life. NIST has no regulatory authority under the NCST Act.

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