Low Plaza

Columbia Hosts Nov. 12 Forum of World Trade Center Engineers

By Suzanne Trimel

(GreatBuildings.com Photo © Lawrence A. Martin)

On Nov. 12, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University will host an all-day forum with the top engineers of the World Trade Center, members of the structural assessment team at Ground Zero and leaders of the emergency response and recovery of Sept. 11 to gather first-hand information that could lead to improvements in building design and operations to cope with extreme hazards like the terrorist attacks.

The forum, "The Technical Implications of the World Trade Center Collapses," is open to the public and will take place from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. at the Roone Arledge Auditorium of Alfred Lerner Hall, Broadway at West 115th Street, on the Columbia University campus. There will be no admission charge but attendees are asked to register in advance online at: http://www.civil.columbia.edu/wtcforum/#reg

The forum will address four aspects of the destruction of Sept. 11: what specific mechanisms caused the towers to collapse; what structural and geotechnical consequences have been observed in adjacent buildings and foundations; what technical problems were encountered in the emergency response and recovery, and what are the implications of this extreme event on the assessment of hazards and risk in future building design.

Among the participants will be Leslie Robertson of Leslie Robertson Associates, the engineer of record for the Twin Towers; Frank Lombardi, chief engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the controlling authority for the World Trade Center, and Raymond E. Sandiford, chief geotechnical engineer for the Port Authority; Commissioner Kenneth Holden of the New York City Department of Design and Construction, and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department.

In addition, leading engineers who are assessing damaged buildings around Ground Zero and others with expertise in structural design will participate. They include: Robert Smilowitz of Weidlinger Associates, a leader in blast-resistant buildings; Charles Thornton, chairman, and Richard Tomasetti, president, of the Thornton-Tomasetti Group Inc., the structural design firm for the Petronas Towers, the world's tallest building in Malaysia, which is the lead firm in assessing damaged buildings at Ground Zero; Matthys Levy, a principal of Weidlinger Associates and author of "Why Buildings Fall Down;" Guy Nordenson of Guy Nordenson Associates, which has been involved in assessing structural damage to buildings, and George Tamaro, senior partner of Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers, the leading geotechnical engineer in assessing the retaining wall at Ground Zero.

Organizers of the forum believe it is vital for structural engineers and designers to learn from the devastation of Sept. 11 and to use that knowledge to make buildings safer, and more resistant to extreme hazards, such as terrorist attack.

"It is in the very nature of progress in building design and engineering to learn from structural calamity, especially of this magnitude," said Professor Rene Testa, an expert on structural mechanics and materials in Columbia's Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, who has organized the forum. "Our idea is to bring together the design practitioners and the emergency response and recovery officials to assess how and why the buildings collapsed and all aspects of the operations." Testa said six to eight months from now, he will bring together a second group, made up largely of academics and researchers, who can assess the information provided by the practitioners to offer recommendations and solutions for future research, design and operations. These recommendations will be published.

Testa, who is a registered engineer in New York and New Jersey and teaches courses on structural analysis and design, testing, assessment and failure of structures, has extensive experience in infrastructure assessment and rehabilitation, including projects on the Whitestone, George Washington, Brooklyn and Triborough bridges in New York City. His current research focuses on the use of vibration monitoring to detect damage in structures

The forum is being conducted by Columbia's Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics through the Columbia Earth Institute's Center for Hazards and Risk Research. Co-sponsors are New York University's Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which is linking the forum to its 2001 Congress, taking place in New York City Nov. 11-16.

Click to view the conference schedule .

Published: Nov 06, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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