This day marks the tragic 9/11 attacks. One can perhaps vividly remember the tragic collapse of the World Trade Center, contributing to the  2,977 claimed lives and more than 6000 injured.

18 years from now, the horror of this event remains etched in the memories of those who have witnessed it personally or from their televisions as it unfolds.

Looking back on this tragedy, many wonder how is it possible that the massive, 110-story buildings will be burned down to fiery rubble — was it an inevitable event?

Wouldn’t it have been possible for the damage resulting from the building’s damage to be minimized at the very least?

To answer this, we need to take a look back.

A short background

As detailed by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in their timeline, on the morning of September 11, 2001, two boarded commercial jetliners were hijacked and used to crash into the World Trade Center towers. One of the planes crashed into the north tower, the other into the south tower.

Around an hour after the impact, the south tower collapsed. Around an hour and 40 minutes after the impact, the north tower collapsed.

Looking at the foundations

This is a rather decent amount of time to allow the occupants of the buildings to leave the tower. However, a total of 2,830 people still died — 2,270 of which are occupants of the buildings. What could’ve gone wrong exactly?

Fire-protection engineer and fire science professor Glenn Corbet closely examined the design of the interior of the buildings, the answer according to him are the design of the stairwells.  Stairwells are the only means of evacuating the buildings since elevators are no longer and option.

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He mentioned several design choices that led to the harrowing experience of getting out of the buildings:

  • Low number of stairwells
  • Enclosure of the walls of the staircase with gypsum boards, easily destroying them upon the impact of the planes crashing and leaving people no exit points
  • Too narrow stairwells, leading to congestion

While the robustness of the building is a huge factor in safety in such crisis situations, the evacuation plan as well as the building design shouldn’t be neglected, either.

Avoiding repeated history

This cruel fate of the World Trade Center served as a wake up call to revisit building codes. High-rise infrastructure are now subject to stricter standards when it comes to fireproofing, exit plans, and other safety features.

It’s hard to say whether these increased efforts today could have prevented the buildings’ collapse. Thinking about it, that really isn’t the ultimate goal. What matters more is making sure that the buildings survive long enough for those inside to evacuate unscathed. In this aspect, we could definitely have dampened the impact of the World Trade Center’s collapse, at the very least.

From the tragedies of the past, we can learn. While there is no way for us to reverse what already has transpired, we have today in our hands to protect. We must look back, learn, and keep moving forward.

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