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buildings
FIRE PROTECTION
Skyscrapers' Supporters Infuriated By Fire Fearmongers
Antagonists, feeding on post-9/11 jitters, magnify danger of towering infernos
By Nadine M. Post

"My husband and 3,000 other innocent victims–people that want to work in what they thought was a safe environment–were slaughtered by the buildings, not the planes…. The need for reform of not only the codes, but also the code development groups that create the codes, is paramount to the safety and security of all people that live and work n high-rise buildings…. No more weighing in favor of those that benefit from the codes, such as the construction industry, developers and the financiers! No more building of indefensible buildings. No more building motivated by greed. This is the legacy we will leave for our loved ones who were so horribly bruitally and needlessly crushed by 110 stories of ego."

Monica Gabrielle
Widow of Richard Gabrielle
Co-chairperson
Skyscraper Safety Campaign
New York City
June 3, 2002

Inflammatory accusations and visions of towering infernos from the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, born of grief on Sept. 11, 2001, needlessly alarm an already jittery public. Hurled relentlessly, the charges unjustly scapegoat those responsible for public safety in buildings for the sins of the terrorists.

Leading the litany of indictments is the statement that the World Trade Center’s twin 110-story towers, not the hijackers, "slaughtered" the victims of 9/11. The New York City-based organization, formed by Monica Gabrielle and her co-chair Sally Regenhard, who both lost relatives in the attacks, concludes that because the towers collapsed, there is a "need for reform" of not only commercial building codes but code development groups. This "is paramount to the security of all people that live in high-rise buildings," says SSC.

In bold rebuttal, Richard C. Schulte, a fire protection engineer and code consultant based in Evanston, Ill., says: "The WTC attacks were ‘kamikaze’ attacks. Building codes don’t address ‘kamikaze’ attacks, nor should they."

SSC, which blasts the buildings establishment through the media, in public meetings, in Congress and on www.SkyscraperSafety.org, has the sympathetic ears of politicians and others. The group "has a very big voice," says Robert E. Solomon, an assistant vice president of the model codewriter, the National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, Mass. SSC’s example is changing the involvement of the public in issues of building safety, he says.

(Photo by Michael Goodman for ENR)

Most people walk on egg shells around the relatives of 9/11’s victims. Not Schulte. He says SSC has been misguided by at least two of its advisors, fire protection engineer and University of Maryland professor James Quintiere and retired fire chief Vincent Dunn, whose theories on high-rise fire protection and building code development are "far out in left field."

Schulte is just getting warmed up. "The New York Times has done a disservice to the City of New York, and to the country"by giving SSC "a forum to spout some of their notions about the collapse of the WTC towers," he says.

Though likely the most vocal, Schulte is not alone is his criticism. Code reform will do nothing to ensure the safety and security of people in high-rise buildings under attack, say sources. Defensible buildings are an impossible dream. Buildings cannot be foot soldiers in the war against terrorism.

Though the terrorists successfully turned the twin towers into weapons of mass destruction, the buildings "did an amazing job of standing up under an unimagined attack," says W. Gene Corley, team leader for the American Society of Civil Engineers’ WTCBuilding Performance Study, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "I do not advocate designing for attack from missiles or airplanes," says Corley, a senior vice president of Construction Technology Laboratories Group, Skokie, Ill.

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It is not just SSC that drives gadfly Schulte to speak, or shout, out in defense. Schulte is perhaps most galled by "snake-oil salesmen" and "carpetbaggers" using 9/11 as a smoke screen for their own benefit. "Fear equals money," says Schulte. "If we can scare you, we can make money on it."

Schulte also is infuriated by public officials and building professionals who have been twisting the truth, preying on post-911 anxiety, misleading the uninformed, making false promises and offering false hope. Like "Peter," many have been crying wolf by trumping up building fire hazards, he says.

An example of a disconnect is contained in a "white paper" by Corley commissioned by the Alliance for Fire Safety, Falls Church, Va., a group that represents the interests of suppliers of passive fire protection. "With the WTC disaster fresh in our...

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