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Statement at WTC Building Code
Task Force Public Forum
08/13/02

Good afternoon. My name is Monica Gabrielle.

My husband, Rich, was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11th. He worked for Aon Corporation at 2 World Trade on the 103rd floor. He was last seen waiting for an elevator on the 78th floor Sky Lobby. He was injured when the second plane's wing tip crashed through that floor. He was thrown, the marble walls collapsing on him, crushing his legs and preventing him from continuing out to safety. He was still alive waiting to be rescued.

Why, with 15 minutes between the attacks, were so many still waiting for elevators? Why were so many still in that building? What was learned and implemented from the experience of the 1993 bombing? The occupants that were in the buildings in '93 had an advantage - experience. THEY RAN.

We cannot continue with business as usual. We need to take a careful look at how we deal with the life-safety issues of occupants in all buildings, most especially, hi-rise buildings, where knowledge and speed of egress could be an essential factor of life or death. The health and safety of building occupants must become a primary concern in all future building, not only at the World Trade Center site, but also across this city and the country. We must become a model for others to follow. There can be no more immunity to compliance of building codes or fire codes, as there was when the Port Authority built the World Trade Center with complete immunity to Federal, State and City building codes as well as New York City Fire Codes.

Full evacuation drills must be mandated. As is evident from oral histories acquired not only in 1993 but also after September 11th, many occupants DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO OR WHERE TO GO, causing mass pandemonium. Each and every occupant must be made aware of the egress design, most especially if there are any deviations to a straight down exit path. They must be aware of every option of escape route available and NOT available to them and have physically walked it. This can only be done by mandating that all occupants be required to participate in a FULL EVACUATION DRILL. We must take into account the employee and tenant "turn over" to avoid anyone from "falling between the cracks". This must be done with the cooperation of owners, building management and tenants. Each must play a major role in communicating available escape plans and routes to the occupants and it must be their combined responsibility to assure the COMPLETE AND TOTAL compliance. We can no longer meet in stairwells and point to exits signs and call that a fire or evacuation drill.

Stairwells that are designated as emergency exits must be constructed in a manner that will not only accommodate the maximum number of occupants streaming out of the building to safety, it must also be constructed using the BEST AVAILABLE MEANS OF FIRE PROTECTION. All emergency evacuation routes must be constructed of concrete block NOT gypsum board, as was the case in the World Trade Center. The stairwells should have a minimum of 48 inches of clearance between handrails. The ideal would be much wider with a center handrail. The stairwells need to be able to accommodate large numbers of people, have enough space to assist with handicapped persons and also be able to accommodate the expected counter flow the fire and rescue workers attempting to go up as the occupants flee the building.

The number of stairwells that are included in future construction needs to be proportionate with the number of anticipated occupancy. Three stairwells to accommodate the potential frantic exit of 25,000 occupants from a 110-story building is unconscionable and criminal. The stairwells are the ONLY means of egress available in the case of fire, since the public is cautioned never to use elevators during such an event. On September 11th, the World Trade Center elevators were knocked out of commission by the impact of the planes. We must look beyond the norm.

The issues of life-safety and future construction not only of high-rise buildings but ANY size building must go hand in hand. If we have learned nothing else from September 11th, or from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, we have learned that these are serious concerns that need to be addressed IMMEDIATELY. We should not have to go through a lengthy legislative process to institute changes to life-safety factors. Nor should we need to wait for the NIST report. Apparently it wasn't ever refered to after the '93 bombing. These changes should be morally agreed upon by the designers, engineers and the construction industry. We cannot afford to wait any longer for these very important issues to be addressed and corrected. What I find most appalling is that on September 11th, the same situations encountered during the 1993 bombing were present. None of the changes made after '93 addressed the problems of a safe and full evacuation. When are we going to learn? When are we going to put the safety of building occupants before the desire to make or save money?

Now is the time to make the necessary changes. Now is the time to address these serious problems. This is a living testament and legacy for those lost on September 11th. Let us do all we can to ensure that this never happens again. We need to put the value of human life first. We need to think outside the box, we need to be creative in our thinking and take every conceivable scenario into account to make safe living and working environments for all citizens. We need to stand up to those with financial interests and force them to recognize that we will allow no more needless deaths.

We need to make it our responsibility to ensure the life-safety of all people who live and work in buildings of any size. We cannot continue to treat a 10 story building the same as we treat a 110-story building. The differences and consequences should be obvious.

We no longer live in a world where we can remain complacent. We need to aggressively pursue what is right. We need to make the necessary changes to protect citizens against future disasters. We need to make the changes necessary to give them every conceivable opportunity to get out of a potentially disastrous situation alive. It's too late for my husband and almost 3,000 innocent victims. Let it not be too late for anyone else.

Much has been said today supporting the need for change and the working together of all sectors involved with building, code changes and life-safety issues. I implore you to not let these issues sit in some public record. Let us begin immediately to implement some of these suggestions. Let us show the public that we do take this very seriously and are committed to quality, safety and security. Please don't disappoint me!

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Monica Gabrielle
Co-Chairperson
Skyscraper Safety Campaign
www.skyscrapersafety.org

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Sally Regenhard,
Chairperson

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470
SallyR@SkyscraperSafety.org

Monica Gabrielle,
Co-Chairperson

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470
monicagabrielle@earthlink.net