Canadian Consulting Engineer

Council on Tall Buildings task force studies human safety issues after the World Trade Center Disaster

October 16, 2001
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

A task force of leading building industry experts formed by the international Council on Tall Buildings and Urban H...

A task force of leading building industry experts formed by the international Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has concluded that there are several actions that can be taken to enhance the emergency performance of buildings including egress strategies, multiply-redundant building systems, integrated building control systems, performance-based design, education and research.
The task force also concluded that it is not practical to design any building to withstand the maliciously directed impact of a large fuel-laden aircraft and that the buildings in the World Trade Center attack performed heroically, which allowed more than 20,000 people to evacuate.
“It is important to understand that the attack on the World Trade Center was not about tall buildings, it was about terrorism,” says the task force, which included 24 experts from international companies in all aspects of engineering for tall buildings, including electrical, mechanical, vertical transportation, fire and life safety etc.
Various highly imaginative new ideas for tall building safety have been aired in different media reports, including having stairs that could be suspended outside buildings and even having occupant parachutes on hand. However, the Lehigh-university based CTBUH task force has taken a more conventional approach, consisting of more reliance on high-tech building systems integration and public education.
The task force issued the following description, indicating it will focus on the following areas for refining life safety issues in the built environnment:
“(1) Egress strategies. It is unlikely that there is one answer to exit and evacuation procedures that applies for every building and for every situation. Developing updated standards, however, that contain the varied approaches of egress processes, systems, shelters, stairwells and elevators is vital to increasing awareness, understanding and probability to exit a building.
(2) Multiply-redundant building systems. Systems should be designed with multiple sources and independent distribution routes to better withstand disruptions caused by extreme events.
(3) Integrated systems There are numerous systems inside of and outside of the building that if integrated could provide on-site and remote information about the building and its occupants to the appropriate authorities. These systems measure, monitor and control a building and the environment of the occupants. Specific systems include structure and infrastructure, electrical, security, building management and utility management.
(4) Performance-based design. Building codes and standards are required and necessary for the built environment. The task force is exploring the potential for adding the function of performance-based design of buildings so those involved with designing, building and operating buildings can match the overall building design with the building’s purpose.
(5) Education. Safety procedures are regularly explained on airplanes and in our school systems. As our built environment includes many more applications, the task force will be establishing guidelines to better educate building management on safety procedures, decision-making and communicating during an emergency.
(6) Research. The task force will be making recommendations for research on the built environment and will serve as a global advisory panel for all aspects relative to overall building safety.”
The task force will evolve into different sub-committee meetings scheduled to confer again in a conference in London in December.

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