TO THE EDITOR
UPDATES & NEWS
CONTACT NEW YORK
NIST WTC Investigation Public Hearing
held at the Marriott Financial Center Hotel
February 12, 2004
by: Sally Regenhard: NIST Testimony (2/12/04)
My remarks today will focus on the skyscraper safety issues of 9/11/01. On 9/11, the cloak of competence was pulled off the City of New York. On that dreadful day, we found out how ill prepared we really were, and this knowledge came at an awful price, the needless death of nearly 3,000 people, 343 of them Firefighters, including my beautiful son, Christian. On 9/11, the City of NY and the Port Authority of NY & NJ (PA) had no plan for terrorism, despite the fact that the World Trade Center was previously attacked in 1993, with deadly consequences. At that time, the terrorists vowed to return to "finish the job" and they kept that promise on 9/11.
The widespread failures in evacuation procedures, building code issues, and emergency communications became a prescription for disaster at the WTC on 9/11. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the PA (a bi state agency which built the WTC and is totally immune from all local Building and Fire Codes) really had no evacuation procedures in place at all. They said they did training, but the fact is that evacuation was left up to the individual tenants, not the PA. The majority of the occupants who survived felt that they were improperly trained, or not trained at all. If they were trained, they would never have gone to the roof to try to escape all those who made that crucial mistake paid with their lives. If they were properly trained, they would have known that access to the roof was impossible, because of two locked doors that were only accessible to maintenance workers with keys.
The inadequacy of codes to ensure safety of persons in high rise buildings became glaringly apparent on 9/11. In 2001, the NYC building codes, as well as all model codes throughout the nation, treated a 100 story building with the same guidelines as a ten story building. This is no different today. No fire drills with full building evacuations were ever mandated and the WTC occupants were just as totally unprepared for a mass evacuation as they were in the 1993 attack. NYC codes allowed a building designed to house 25,000 people to have only three staircases for emergency escape! It allowed gypsum board walls in stairways which at the WTC, collapsed under impact and pressure, trapping fleeing victims. NYC codes allowed many or all of a high rise building's stairwell doors to be locked, trapping fleeing victims when stairs collapsed, and preventing firefighters from gaining timely access to floors where people needed to be rescued. The unfortunate truth is that today, very little has changed in the area of building code reform throughout our country, including few extra safety measures for high rise buildings.
But any discussion of the NYC codes is completely irrelevant to the WTC, because these buildings were, and remain, above the law. The Port Authority's deadly buildings, of unorthodox design and construction, were totally immune from every single NYC building and fire code and were subject to "the Port Authority's own codes" which remain a mystery to this day, because no one has ever seen them! The PA repeatedly claims that they "meet or exceed" NYC codes, however, history has show that this is a falsehood. No high rise building of 100% bar joist floor construction before or since the WTC has ever been allowed under NYC standards and practices. According to the NIST/WTC Collapse Investigation, there is no evidence that fire tests were ever done on the fireproofing of the WTC this is a glaring example of lack of code compliance, to say the least. Finally, the untested fireproofing was grossly inadequate- a clear violation of NYC codes, however, since no FDNY violations can be issued to such an "immune" building, no codes violations were ever served on these dangerous buildings. Indeed, the FDNY had no jurisdiction in the WTC, but paradoxically, they were required to risk and eventually lose their lives in these buildings! What a disgrace what a crime against humanity!
Since 9/11, we are moving in the direction of change, but far too slowly. Generally, we are crawling, instead of running, towards change. One outstanding exception to this situation is the NYC Department of Buildings and its "World Trade Center Building Code Task Force" which is effecting sweeping change and reform for NYC's Building Code. In February of 2003, this proactive NYC Agency approved comprehensive safety measures such as the *temporary outlawing of bar joist floor assembly (commonly known as "truss construction")* in high rise buildings, the hardening of cores of staircases and elevator banks, the retrofitting of sprinklers in older buildings, and other safeguards which hopefully will be incorporated into the NYC Building Code. The NYC Dept. of Buildings awaits the findings and recommendations of the NIST Investigation to enact further building safety measures. I can only hope that the NIST recommendations will prove to be proactive, courageous, and historic in setting standards for building safety in this City and in this country.
But there is still, unbelievably, widespread resistance to national reform. This was evidenced in the recent failures of a Codes Group to initiate basic fire safety reform through the widening of staircases for new high rise buildings. For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently had the opportunity to effect the code change of widening staircases in newly constructed skyscrapers by one foot a foot that could save many lives, yet failed to do so when they yielded to the protests of special interest groups, specifically (& unbelievably) the General Services Administration (GSA) a governmental agency, and The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA.) A huge outcry in the building safety field, led by the SSC and others, has resulted in the revisiting of the wider staircase issue. At a recent meeting with the NFPA, we were reassured that this most needed reform will be enacted in the near future. We watchfully wait for this essential code reform to become a reality, and urge the NIST Investigation to reinforce the necessity of this most basic of safety reforms wider staircases for high rise buildings throughout the US.
One of the most tragic and abominable failures of 9-11 was the total breakdown of emergency communication and coordination in the WTC. Lacking any real plan for terrorism, and lacking a unified command structure, the PA, NYPD and the FDNY operated basically separately on 9/11/01. For the most part they did not, and could not, communicate with one another. The FDNY generally could not even communicate among their fellow firefighters. Numerous newspaper articles, interviews and 9/11 tapes have evidenced this fact. The fact that my son, and his FDNY brothers were sent in to the WTC with radios that did not work in 1993 and were no more capable of working in 2001, resulted in evacuation orders which were unheard and thus unheeded - a fact that surely contributed to their deaths.
In an effort to minimize the atrocity of the death of 343 firefighters, heroic urban legends were promulgated by leaders such as the former Mayor of NY and others who still claim to this day that "25,000 people were rescued by the FDNY in the largest rescue effort in world history". To the contrary, evacuation specialists and researchers have determined that the true number of occupants who escaped that day was closer to 7,000 people per tower; and we await the findings of the NIST Investigation to determine the true number. The sad truth is that whoever could get out, did get out, and while the FDNY valiantly entered the WTC to save lives; it was an impossible, and deadly, situation. They were essentially sent in to an inevitable death with radios which did not work. To this day, no one has been held accountable or responsible for these massive failures of the public trust.
One way that the NIST Investigation, the families of the victims & the American public can help to solve the enigma of what really happened in those deadly towers is by listening to the 911 emergency tapes and the oral interviews of over 500 firefighters who lived to tell the tale. Unbelievably, the City of NY has, for the past 2 1/2 years, resisted making this critical and historical information public. Even more unbelievably, the City of NY has resisted handing over this material to the NIST Investigation as well as to the 9-11 Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States! After months of wrangling, both NIST & the 9-11 Commission capitulated, and agreed to accept limited access to a sanitized, censored version of this critical & historical material. Full, unabridged access to the 911 emergency tapes, transmissions and oral interviews is essential to understanding what really happened in the WTC on 9/11. The SSC is shocked, appalled and outraged that the only two investigations of this horrific day will be subject to incomplete, secretive and sanitized information. I want to know why NIST did not use the subpoena power given to them by the Congress of the United States, for exactly this purpose: to find out what really happened in the WTC, and in this way, to help prevent something like this from ever happening again. Flawed information can only serve to produce flawed results, and I call on NIST to renounce this immoral and illegal capitulation to the City of NY's wishes to control history and withhold the truth about 9/11.
In closing, keep in mind that no reformed codes and no method of enforcement will be of any value to safeguard the American public, unless there is a system of accountability and responsibility in place. We need this for the effective safeguarding of human life in all buildings, and especially for the failures of the World Trade Center on 9/11. There was a wholesale betrayal of all those in the WTC, and all the rescue workers who ran in to a hopeless situation, with radios that did not work. The former Mayor, Fire Commissioner and Police Commissioner of NY as well as the Port Authority of NY & NJ officials are just some of the individuals who must be questioned by the NIST Investigation regarding what happened to the WTC on 9/11, and why the largest building in the world was so totally unprepared for this terrorist attack, despite warnings. Accountability and responsibility are the hallmarks of a democratic society. Without a system of accountability and responsibility for all public and private buildings, there will be no real impetus to change an irresponsible system - like the one that characterized the City of New York, and the WTC, on 9/11.
The Skyscraper Safety Campaign
*Truss construction is only temporarily prohibited for high rise buildings in NYC as the Dept of Buildings awaits final recommendations from the NIST/ WTC Investigation.
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