Public safety paradox Print
Letters To The Editor
Saturday, 12 March 2011 01:25

Public safety paradox

September 2010

Dear Editor:

The complete collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 (WTC 7) was highly anomalous—that's why it is critical for building design and construction professionals to understand it. Freedom of Information Act requests for structural-analysis data have been denied because the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director determined that release of the data might jeopardize public safety. I asked the Director:

How, in the Director's judgment, is the release of calculations and analysis results—developed at the taxpayers' expense for a building that no longer exists—a threat to public safety?

His response was:

The decision to withhold the data was based on the fact that the capabilities of the WTC 7 collapse initiation and global collapse models are unprecedented, in that they provide validated models that can predict collapse of typical tall buildings. If released, these models would provide a powerful tool to groups and individuals interested in simulating building collapses and devising ways to destroy buildings.

This response from NIST is an insult to building design and construction professionals who are committed to ensuring public safety with high-quality construction. As a structural engineer I have a professional interest in understanding the collapse, and it has nothing to do with ''devising ways to destroy buildings." If the WTC 7 models actually predict the complete collapse of typical tall buildings subjected to office fires, then withholding this information is not in the interest of public safety.

Independent verification is an integral part of science, so I strongly encourage the NIST Director to reconsider his decision to withhold analysis data. Only independent verification will enable these complex models to be validated.


Ronald H. Brookman, SE