2002-07-27 / Community

Learning the Lessons of the

World Trade Center Collapse
By Congressman Anthony Weiner

An Op-Ed Piece...
By Congressman Anthony Weiner

  On November 12, 2001, the community of Belle Harbor, which I represent, was ravaged by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587.  Within moments, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was on the ground and a comprehensive investigation was underway.  From day one, evidence was sequestered, witnesses were interviewed, and the public was kept informed through briefings and reports.

When the World Trade Center (WTC) collapsed, however, the exact opposite was the case. There was confusion about who was in control of the site -- federal or local authorities.  There was no protocol in place for an investigation of the collapse, and a comprehensive investigation was never initiated.  It was not until the next day that FEMA asked the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to do an assessment, and the ASCE did not even visit the site until October 6. The National Science Foundation awarded grants to study the collapse, but the grantees did not coordinate their efforts with FEMA or the Engineers.

We now know the consequences of not having investigatory procedures in place before September 11. Crucial evidence was mishandled: more than 80 percent of the steel from the WTC site was sold for recycling, most of it before it could be analyzed.  The FEMA study, bogged down by infighting and a lack of cooperation among agencies, failed to examine important aspects of the collapse such as rescue worker procedures, evacuation protocols, building design, building codes and other safety issues.

That's why I worked closely with House Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert to craft the National Construction Safety Team Act, legislation that creates investigative teams like the NTSB to jump into action to investigate building collapses, protect and preserve evidence, issue regular briefings, and reach conclusions that formalize standards for building design, egress and emergency escape.

This important legislation passed the House last week.  We hope that companion legislation will be passed by the Senate in short order, and that it will become law before the end of this session.

While we cannot mitigate the tragedy that befell so many of our neighbors on September 11, families of the victims have asked that we do what we can to give meaning to their loss.  One of the best ways we can pay tribute to all those who perished at ground zero is to ensure that we learn the lessons of our past.  This legislation is intended to do just that.

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