NIST appoints Cornell’s Hover, ACI 318’s Moehle to tower investigation team

PHOTOS: National Institute of Standards and Technology

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has named members of a technical team investigating the June 24, 2021 partial collapse of the reinforced concrete Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla. Progressive column and slab failure took the lives of 96.

Cornell University Professor of Civil Engineering Kenneth Hover and ACI Committee 318 Immediate Past Chair Jack Moehle lead the field of concrete experts appointed to the team. They are respectively joined on two of five investigation projects, Material Science and Structural Engineering, by Scott Jones and Fahim Sadek. Rounding out the team by project are Building and Code History, Jim Harris and Jonathan Weigand; Evidence Preservation, David Goodwin and Christopher Segura; and, Geotechnical Engineering, Youssef Hashash and Sissy Nikolaou.

“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,” says NIST Director James Olthoff. “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.”

NIST Engineering Laboratory Materials and Structural Systems Division Associate Chief Judith Mitrani-Reiser will lead the team. She manages and provides oversight on building failure investigations and coordinates work with other federal agencies to reduce losses from built environment disasters and failures. Glenn Bell, co-director of the Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures organization and co-founder of the American Society of Civil Engineers Technical Council on Forensic Engineering, will serve as associate lead. 

“This team has an incredible amount of experience in forensic engineering, having studied many building failures,” says Mitrani-Reiser. “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, and modeling will ensure a thorough investigation.”

NIST and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff inspect an element from the Champlain Towers South partial collapse in Surfside, Fla.

Work will be organized around specific areas to understand the full history of the building, from design to the moment of collapse. NIST will provide progress updates during the investigation, including through public National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee meetings and annual reports to Congress. The agency will hold preliminary findings or conclusions until publishing a draft report for public comment. Because of the amount of evidence and information that must be examined thoroughly, the investigation could take multiple years to complete.

Champlain Towers South marks the fifth investigation NIST has conducted using authorities granted by the 2002 NCST Act. The law gives the agency and its teams primary authority to investigate the site of a building disaster; access key pieces of evidence such as records and documents; and, collect and preserve evidence from the site of a failure or disaster.