Federal government sending scientists to investigate Miami-area building collapse

The federal government agency responsible for leading investigations into building failures is sending a group of scientists and engineers to collect information on the Miami-area building collapse to determine whether a larger probe into potential structural failures is needed. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a nonregulatory agency under the authority of the Department of Commerce, said it was working on sending six scientists and engineers “to collect firsthand information on the Champlain Towers South collapse that will be used to determine if an investigation or study will be conducted,” agency spokesperson Jennifer Huergo said in a statement shared with The Hill. 

“The NIST experts will work with federal, state and local authorities to identify and preserve materials that might be helpful in understanding why the collapse occurred,” she added. 

The announcement comes amid ongoing search and rescue efforts following the early Thursday partial collapse of a residential building in the Miami-area town of Surfside. 

Four people have been declared dead as a result of the collapse, with 159 people still unaccounted for as of Friday morning, according to local officials. A total of 120 building residents have been located. 

Huergo told The Hill that the NIST investigation “will not interfere with the ongoing search and rescue operation,” adding that institute staff “will only enter the site after it is deemed safe for them to do so.” 

“If a full investigation or study is conducted, its ultimate goal would be to determine the technical cause of the collapse and, if indicated, to recommend changes to building codes, standards and practices, or other appropriate actions to improve the structural safety of buildings,” she said. 

The NIST was first authorized to investigate building failures following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center’s twin towers. 

The National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act, signed into law in October 2002 by then-President George W. Bush, gave the NIST “the responsibility to dispatch teams of experts, where appropriate and practical, within 48 hours after major building disasters.”

The institute in its 9/11 report provided recommendations for changes to building codes, fire response and emergency communications, and has subsequently led three other disaster-related structural probes, including a January interim report on revitalizing Puerto Rico’s infrastructure following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

The first lawsuit over the Surfside building collapse was filed Thursday, claiming that the disaster occurred “due to the inadequate protection of both the safety of residents and visitors to the building.”

The lawsuit alleged that the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association did not implement measures to address repair needs that had been identified prior to the collapse. 

President Biden has authorized a state of emergency request from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), freeing up federal resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with rescue and recovery efforts.

Tags building collapse buildings Department of Commerce FEMA Florida Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Surfside building collapse World Trade Center

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