UPDATE: The NIST 9/11 WTC 7 report was released Aug. 21, 2008. Read more about it here.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology now says that its draft report on the World Trade Center Building 7 collapse (officially entitled “WTC 7 Structural Analysis and Collapse Hypotheses”) will be released for public comment this fall. When I contacted the NIST press office this week, they told me that NIST plans to issue its final WTC report by the end of 2006.
This should bring relative closure to the scientific/engineering investigation of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack–and the additional lessons learned should aid in the design of future skyscrapers in a world where terrorism will remain an ugly fact of life.
Those 9/11 conspiracy theorists who continue to argue that the WTC 7 was destroyed by a rigged explosion (often claiming it was part of a sinister governmental scheme) won’t be satisfied; they’ll be angered by any report that doesn’t expose the alleged grand plot behind the tragic events of 9/11. Nonetheless, the NIST WTC 7 report should offer enough scientific detail to convince some of the well-meaning gullible (often found, sad to say, on American college campuses) to reject the full-blown paranoid fantasies about what happened.
There are several credible theories about the WTC 7 collapse (all of which involve physics, not fantasy). While the 47-story building wasn’t directly hit by the jetliners, falling debris from WTC 1 apparently started fires in WTC 7. To their credit, the scientists and engineers initially looking at this have admitted they aren’t sure how the fires caused the collapse. They will now look at several hypothesis and test models to try to find out what happened, relying on the scientific method.
A number of websites offer striking video of WTC 7 collapsing, and conspiracy proponents argue that buildings won’t implode so neatly unless there are demolition charges involved (the hapless Charlie Sheen raised these suspicions publicly); but Dr. Thomas Eagar, an MIT professor and engineer who studied the collapse of the Twin Towers has an explanation for this, one he gave NOVA a few years ago. (It also applies to WTC 7.)
Have you ever seen the demolition of buildings? They blow them up, and they implode. Well, I once asked demolition experts, “How do you get it to implode and not fall outward?” They said, “Oh, it’s really how you time and place the explosives.” I always accepted that answer, until the World Trade Center, when I thought about it myself. And that’s not the correct answer. The correct answer is, there’s no other way for them to go but down. They’re too big. With anything that massive — each of the World Trade Center towers weighed half a million tons — there’s nothing that can exert a big enough force to push it sideways.
Eager’s “back-of-the-envelope” theory seems logical (you can find his original paper here and the NIST report on WTC 1 and WTC 2 here.) He also has some interesting things to say about the intensity of the fires in the WTC disaster.
The NIST WTC 7 report in the fall will no doubt shed more light on this aspect of the 9/11 tragedy. Applied Research Associates, Inc., the firm responsible for the draft report, will include the findings of structural engineers and physicists who have studied dam and building failures, and the results of a number of computer simulations and materials tests.
While the report will effectively end the scientific investigation of what happened at the World Trade Center in New York in mid-September 2001, we will continue to struggle for emotional closure over 9/11 and its aftermath. That will take much, much longer.
Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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