University team probes Twin Towers safety


Researchers from the University of Ulster are to take part in an international safety project that aims to interview more than 2,000 survivors of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

The 1.6m study will be the biggest-ever involving people caught up in the terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

A team from the university's Institute for Fire Safety Engineering Research and Technology (FireSERT) led by Professor Jim Shields - along with researchers from the Fire Safety Engineering Group of the University of Greenwich led by Prof Ed Galea and the Centre for Investigative Psychology of the University of Liverpool led by Prof David Cantor - will aim to find out which elements in the towers' design helped or hindered their escape.

While several studies are already under way into structural issues, less attention has been paid to the way the buildings were evacuated.

Professor Shields said : "The survivors of the World Trade Center September 11th 2001 disaster are key to our understanding of how to design a safer built environment.

"Their individual and collective experiences could significantly influence the next generation of performance based building codes and the design of medium and high rise.

"The project will involve substantial knowledge and technology transfer, with the data obtained being archived and made available to all bona-fide researchers."

Chief researcher, Professor Ed Galea, from the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich in London, claims that better staircase design could have saved more than 1,000 lives.

About 1,400 people were trapped above the 91st floor of the center's north tower after the jet smashed all three emergency stairways - which were located close together at the core of the building.

Professor Galea has already shown that, if even one staircase had survived, there would have been time to get most people out before the tower collapsed.

The new three-year project, called HEED (High-rise Evacuation Evaluation Database), will bring together engineers and psychologists.

The latter will play a crucial role in obtaining useful information from the survivors, many of whom are still likely to be traumatised by their experience.

HEED is funded by a 1.6m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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