TO THE EDITOR
UPDATES & NEWS
CONTACT NEW YORK
NIST WTC Investigation Public Hearing
held at the Marriott Financial Center Hotel
February 12, 2004
by: M. Gabrielle: NIST Testimony (2/12/04)
My name is Monica Gabrielle. I lost my husband Rich in the South Tower on 9/11. Although on the 78th Floor at the time of impact he survived and was almost certainly alive when firefighters reached the 78th floor shortly before the collapse of the South Tower.
It is now nearly 18 months since the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) began its investigation into the causes of the collapse of the Twin Towers and the subsequent deaths of more than 2,700 people. NIST’s report and conclusions are due in eight months. As such, it seems a reasonable time to take stock.
Throughout the last 18 months, NIST has adopted the mantra that their investigation is one of fact-finding, not fault finding. The central FACT that the legislation establishing their investigation makes no such distinction includes no such terminology has been eclipsed by simple repetition. If fault is uncovered, so be it. But please, do not tiptoe around the facts to avoid letting the fault chips fall where they may.
Many of us, and perhaps some in NIST too, came to the conclusion months ago that the basic facts pertaining to the collapse of the Twin Towers meant that faults were an integral, inseparable part of the facts. Perhaps it is because the facts are so stark, so incriminating, so alarming that NIST’s most senior officials seem reluctant to state them in the sort of bold terms they deserve. Worse still, these senior officials seem even more reluctant to address the questions that logically derive from such facts.
Such reluctance serves no one. If the basic aim is to improve building safety, as NIST maintains, asking questions – hard, difficult, sometimes embarrassing questions – is the only way to proceed.
Throughout this investigation, there has been a marked reluctance to place the design, construction and maintenance of the Twin Towers in context – the context of accepted practice and prevailing procedure. There has been a marked reluctance, in that now well-used phrase, “to, connect the dots,” to ask why and how something happened; to ask how all elements of design, construction and safety during the tragedy of the 9/11. There has also been a marked reluctance, on the part of NIST, to issue emergency advisories on such basic issues as deficiencies in spray-on fireproofing.
So let me, a mere housewife from Connecticut, help out. I am going to state just some of what we know to be fact, and then ask the obvious questions any true investigator would follow through with.
Despite the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s mandate to its architects and structural engineers to use in NIST’s phrase “acceptable engineering practices” in the design and construction of the Twin Towers, the Port Authority, accepted, approved and indeed advocated totally unorthodox design features in the Twin Towers. These buildings were anything but accepted practice. Indeed, the Twin Towers combined so many unorthodox, untested design features, they might justifiably be termed experimental. Bar joist floors spanning up to 60 feet, instead of traditional steel beams; plasterboard enclosure of the elevators and stairwells in the central core instead of concrete and masonry; fireproofing for which the testing had not been completed. None of this was, nor is it today, accepted engineering practice – especially for buildings of such dimensions.
Question: How can the Port Authority and how does NIST square the instruction to use “acceptable engineering practices” with those actually used in the design, construction and maintenance of the Twin Towers?
The impact of large passenger aircraft flying into the Twin Towers at high speed had been considered. However, the possible effect of the inevitable multi-floor fires that would result from such an impact, the effect on the structural integrity of such a design as the Twin Towers, the potential for progressive collapse in such an instance, was simply ignored. This incredible oversight took place not once but apparently twice, in two separate aircraft impact studies in 1964 and 1967.
Question: Was this oversight deliberate? It hardly seems possible that architects and structural engineers as experienced as Minoru Yamasaki and John Skilling would overlook such a basic consequence of impact by aircraft. Yet these studies were both completed with the sole purpose of reassuring the public that the buildings were safe – that they could be safely built, that they could survive such an impact without collapsing into Lower Manhattan. If fire, and thus the possibility of collapse had been considered, the Twin Towers could not have been built.
No fire tests were done on the bar joist floors that were such an integral part of the Twin Towers stability. With no comparable floor assembly design having ever been used in high-rise structures, and thus no relevant, comparable test listed, neither the Port Authority, the architects or the structural engineers could really know the fire resistance capacity of the bar joist floors in the Twin Towers. Thus, the Port Authority’s claim that the Twin Towers conformed to code is completely bogus – the idea that they met and exceeded code, as their press officers’ claim to this is day is palpable nonsense.
Question: Why were no fire tests done on models or mock-ups of the floor assemblies of the Twin Towers? It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of such a basic omission. One fire protection engineer described it to me in Catholic terms – it was, he said “a mortal sin.” Yet the Port Authority was one of the few agencies in the country at the time with specialist fire protection engineers on its staff. Yes, ON ITS STAFF. Who was responsible for this abject failure?
A fire test done by the manufacturer of Monokote spray on fire-proofing on a bar joist floor assembly modeled on the shop drawings of those for the Twin Towers demonstrated that one and a half inches of fire proofing was required to secure the 3-hour rating required by New York City codes. Yet in October 1969, the Port Authority instructed its contractor to apply just half an inch of a different fireproofing, Cafco Blazeshield D.
Questions: What was the origin of and reason for the Monokote fire test – and what is its relationship to the absence of a Port Authority floor assembly fire test with the Cafco product they used? Did the Port Authority use the Monokote test as an excuse for not doing its own fire test? Worse, did it take the results of Monokote test, then, on the basis of calculation based on the differences in the thermal conductivity of the two fireproofing materials, lessen the thickness to be applied by its contractor by two thirds? In other words did the Port Authority order the application of half an inch of fire proofing insulation instead of one and half inches on the basis of a flawed calculation derived from a test it had never performed? NIST knows all the basic facts here: why is it not asking these obvious questions? Why has it not interviewed individuals who know about this?
The fire proofing in the Twin Towers was inadequate in both thickness and application. Even the Port Authority effectively admitted this – albeit quarter of a century late – when a fireproofing rehabilitation program was initiated under Frank Lombardi, the Chief Engineer, in 1995. However, in the six years between 1995 and 2001, the fireproofing in a mere 15% of the floor space in the Twin Towers was rehabilitated. Even a legal settlement against the manufacturers of the fireproofing, US Mineral, an award of more than 40 million dollars, in 1998, did not get the fireproofing rehabilitation program out of first gear.
Question: Why was such a crucial building safety issue as the inadequacy of the fireproofing on the floor assemblies ignored for so long? When it was recognized as a problem, why was the rehab program so slow in pace? Did the fact that, on 9/11, all the floors most affected by fire in the North Tower had been rehabbed since 1995, contribute to the fact that the North Tower stood for almost double the time that the South Tower did?
There was no complete evacuation plan for the Twin Towers because it had always been assumed that there were no circumstances in which mass, simultaneous evacuation of all occupants would be necessary. Such logic was downright irrational. In both February 1975, in the nighttime arson attack and again in February 1993, with the truck bomb in the underground parking facility, relatively localized incidents in the Twin Towers necessitated complete evacuation. Listen to the tapes or talk to security and Port Authority personnel in the Twin Towers on 9/11. It is impossible to conclude that the failure to foresee circumstances in which complete evacuation became necessary and the consequent failure to have an evacuation procedure at the ready, led to hesitation and confusion as to what to do, particularly in the South Tower. In short, the absence of a mass evacuation plan cost lives.
Why was there absolutely no change in emergency procedures to include the possibility of mass, simultaneous evacuation after 1975 then again 1993?
I could go on …. and on…. and on. The facts are stark, the questions obvious. And if NIST does not even address them – let alone answer them – in their final report, others and myself along with the courts – will continue to try to do so.
I was amazed to hear that Director of NIST, Dr. Arden Bement, admitted in December that NIST had no investigative capacity. Why then have investigators not been hired? How many untouched facts remain in filing cabinets and people’s heads because NIST did not take a proactive investigative approach, relying instead on information provided by primary sources? Why did NIST never go beyond that first tier to access that critical inner sphere of data? NIST should be tracking all leads and facts. This is, after all, an investigation into the largest building collapse in American history. Whatever is learned from this investigation is supposed be used to make the necessary changes to prevent further tragedies of this magnitude. If an inadequate investigation leads to incomplete conclusions, how much safer can we really be?
A law enforcement friend of mine used to have an observation on internal police investigations. They ran on a simple principal, he said: if you knew the answer was going to be embarrassing to the force, make sure you didn’t ask the question.
I must tell you – I have no hesitation about asking embarrassing questions. I, and many others in this room, have, since 9/11, built our lives around asking embarrassing questions.
To be sure, I live to ask embarrassing questions.
Unfortunately, my husband, Rich, is not here because neither he nor I asked what might be termed embarrassing questions before September 11, 2001 – questions about fireproofing, design, evacuation, exits. Questions about the competence or negligence of those we assumed knew what they were doing, those we thought we could trust.
I’m not going to make that mistake again. And not just for my late husband’s sake – but for the sake of the many others whose lives might be in the same kind of danger today.
The Skyscraper Safety Campaign
BACK TO TOP