A federal agency that investigated the fall of the World Trade Center on 9/11 is on the ground in South Florida, looking into what caused Champlain Towers South to collapse.

The preliminary work of this team of scientists with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology also known as NIST could lead to a rare formal investigation by the agency.

What You Need To Know

  • A federal agency is looking preliminarily into the cause of the Champlain Towers South collapse.

  • The National Institutes of Standards and Technology was given authority to study building failures after 9/11

  • The findings could result in changes nationally, a professor who worked on a previous investigation said

  • The agency could decide within two weeks whether to launch a full investigation

  • Previous studies by NIST have taken at least two years to complete

"NIST is sending a team of 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,” said Jennifer Huergo, an NIST spokeswoman in a statement sent to Spectrum News.

The relatively small agency was given the authority to investigate building failures after 9/11.

The victims’ families down in Florida have no idea that what happened during 9/11 is going to benefit them in finding the truth,” said Glenn Corbett, a former member of the Federal Advisory Committee of the National Construction Safety Team.

Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was part of an investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. 

“Those recommendations that NIST came up with have literally changed our building codes and response protocols,” Corbett explained.

The agency has only conducted four formal investigations into building collapses over the past 20 years. 

The Champlain Tower Collapse will likely become the agency’s fifth investigation, Corbett said. Its first step, according to a spokeswoman, is to identify and preserve building materials for analysis.  

“They are now embedded with the debris task force with the state and local government so they all can be working together,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), whose district includes Surfside. 

Wasserman Schultz said she has been briefed by NIST officials on site. The agency has not yet launched a formal investigation, but with the growing number of deaths, she said she anticipates it will happen soon.

“They will decide whether they open a full investigation based on whether the result of the investigation will impact the national approach to building codes and how building construction policies are developed,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Previous NIST investigations have taken at least two years to complete. If the agency goes that route, Corbett said it may result in recommendations for major changes to building codes and construction practices.  

“The situation in which we’ve got salt water, corrosive water moving into sites on land, that may change things nationally,” Corbett said.

"This could help point toward things we need to take a closer look at, not just specific buildings, but how do buildings behave under those conditions and things. Perhaps this will lead us in a different direction in terms of research to deal with that. There will be a legacy I’m sure with this investigation.”

The agency — part of the U.S. Commerce Department — is expected to decide within two weeks whether to launch a full investigation.