WTC study suggests skyscraper construction changes

If there had been one more staircase in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, there might have been more survivors, engineers said in a federal report released June 23.

To rebuild the nation’s confidence in skyscrapers, the draft report, released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, addresses concerns about the construction and safety policies of the massive buildings. It provides more than 43 drafts of information and 30 recommendations on how to prevent natural and accidental skyscraper catastrophes, including suggestions for construction modifications such as larger elevators, stairways, floors for safe evacuations in case of fires and better overall building codes.

Since the report is only a draft, Jan Kosco, NIST’s public affairs spokesperson, said building and fire safety communities can submit comments concerning the report through the first week in August. A date for a final report has not been set.

According to previous reports submitted by NIST engineers S. Shyam Sunder and William Grosshandler, components such as the floors of the twin towers were much smaller than necessary for a large-capacity building. There were no fire exits wide enough enough for higher-floor occupants to escape, they noted.

Experts cited in two New York Times articles said the construction of new stairways, especially in existing skyscrapers, would be extreme. Attempts to contact experts at the Associated General Contractors of America and the Associated Builders and Contractors about how logical the changes would be were unsuccessful.

“We are not a regulatory agency – we’re just recommending,” Kosco said.

A public conference concerning the report will be held Sept. 13-15 at NIST’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md.

For instructions on how to submit comments regarding the report via Web or e-mail, click here. You can mail comments to WTC Technical Information Repository, Attn: Stephen Cauffman, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., Stop 8610, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8610.