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Towers Should Have Had One More Staircase, Report Finds
The New York Times - Friday, June 24, 2005
By JIM DWYER
In its bluntest finding about shortcomings of the World Trade Center that may have contributed to the deaths on Sept. 11, a federal report said yesterday that the towers did not have enough staircases to meet New York City's building code.
Each tower had three staircases, but should have had four to meet the city's code, the report stated. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which built and owned the towers, had long said that while it was not bound by the code, it was committed to "meet or exceed" those standards.
Of the six staircases in the two buildings, five were destroyed outright by the impact of the planes. The sixth, in the south tower, survived at least partially intact and at least 18 people from the impact zone used it to escape.
In the north tower, however, no one above the 91st floor was able to get out, even though about 1,000 are likely to have survived the impact of the hijacked airplane.
The fourth staircase - had it been built, as the code required, and if it had been located out of the path of destruction - presents the painful, tantalizing prospect that some of those people might have been able to get out.
"If it had survived, at least partially, you might not have had everybody killed," said Richard W. Bukowski, a senior engineer with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He led the investigation into the Port Authority's assertion that it had complied with building codes.
Mr. Bukowski noted that it was quite possible that a fourth staircase might have had the same immediate fate as most of the others, depending on where it was located.
The Port Authority maintains that the stairway was not required.
"On the issue of the fourth staircase, we will respectfully disagree with the N.I.S.T. findings and maintain that we met the city building codes in this area," said Steve Coleman, an agency spokesman.
The report said the fourth staircase was required because Windows on the World, in the north tower, and the public observatory, in the south tower, had occupancy ratings of 1,000 people or more.
"If the building was built under the New York City building code, it would have required a fourth staircase," said Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Buildings, endorsing the federal finding.
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