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NIST establishes team of experts to investigate cause of Surfside building collapse, releases video of evidence gathered

The NIST released video Aug. 25 showing more evidence of corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement as it investigates the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside.
The NIST released video Aug. 25 showing more evidence of corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement as it investigates the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside. (National Institute of Standards and Technology)

SURFSIDE, Fla. – The National Institute of Standards and Technology held a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss its investigation into the June 24 partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building.

A team of six scientists and engineers were initially sent to the site over the summer “to collect firsthand information” to determine whether they would conduct a full investigation into the incident.

On Wednesday, NIST confirmed they have established a team of experts to investigate the technical cause or causes of the collapse and to recommend possible changes to building codes and other actions to improve the structural safety of buildings.

“In response to the tragic events at Champlain Towers South, an accomplished team of experts has answered the call to help us determine the likely cause or causes of the partial collapse,” said James Olthoff, who is performing the nonexclusive functions and duties of the under secretary of commerce for standards and technology and NIST director. “I’m confident this team will work tirelessly to understand what happened in Surfside, and to make recommendations that will improve the safety of buildings across the United States to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.”

The team investigating the Surfside collapse will be led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division in NIST’s Engineering Laboratory. Mitrani-Reiser also grew up in Miami and her grandmother lived just a few blocks from Champlain Towers South.

In her current role, Mitrani-Reiser “leads the development and coordination of statutory processes for making buildings safer,” according to the NIST’s website.

“This team has an incredible amount of experience in forensic engineering, having studied many building failures,” Mitrani-Reiser said. “We are going into this with an open mind and will examine all hypotheses that might explain what caused this collapse. Having a team with experience across a variety of disciplines, including structural and geotechnical engineering, materials, evidence collection, modeling and more, will ensure a thorough investigation.”

NIST officials said their first priority was working with local authorities to make sure any evidence was preserved at the site of the collapse, and confirmed that hundreds of pieces of debris and specimens have been preserved and are being analyzed.

Officials said to determine the cause of the collapse, they need to know the condition the building was in before the collapse and have tested ground water, soil and rock.

On Wednesday, NIST released a video from the scene of the collapse showing more evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement.

WATCH VIDEO: NIST releases video showing more evidence of corrosion, overcrowded concrete reinforcement as it investigates Surfside building collapse.

Video released by a team of federal investigators shows more evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement in a Miami-area condominium that collapsed in June, killing 98 people.
Video released by a team of federal investigators shows more evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement in a Miami-area condominium that collapsed in June, killing 98 people.

The video shows densely packed steel reinforcement in various sections of the building, along with extensive corrosion where one column met the building’s foundation.

“The corrosion on the bottom of that column is astronomical,” Dawn Lehman, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Washington, told the Miami Herald. She said that amount of corrosion should have been obvious and documented as part of the 40-year inspection that was ongoing when the building collapsed.

“If there’s that amount of corrosion, this should have been fixed,” she said.

The images show beams, walls and columns that appear to be overcrowded with steel reinforcement, which suggests potential weaknesses, she explained.

“There is no reason there should be that kind of bar congestion,” Lehman said.

Officials say they will provide regular updates with the public via their website and press briefings, but cannot release any preliminary findings until their work is complete.

NIST has conducted four other investigations using authorities granted by the 2002 National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act, which include:

· World Trade Center (published 2005)

· Station Nightclub Fire (published 2005)

· Joplin Tornado (published 2014)

· Hurricane Maria (ongoing, but interim report published recently)

This would be their first look into a collapse that wasn’t tied to an obvious cause such as a storm, fire or terrorist attack.


About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.