U.S. Expert Team to Study Champlain Towers South Collapse

Staff members examine pieces of concrete removed from the debris pile at the site of the Champlain Towers South building collapse. Photo courtesy of NIST.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA) recently announced the expert team members who will conduct a technical investigation into the June 24, 2021, partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida, USA.

Corrosion has been identified by many industry experts as a potential driving or contributing force behind the deadly tragedy.

“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 James Olthoff, who is performing the nonexclusive functions and duties of the undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology and NIST director.

“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,” Olthoff adds.

Video footage of the technical investigation can be viewed here:


According to the agency, the Champlain Towers South investigation will be the fifth investigation NIST has conducted using authorities granted by the 2002 National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act. The act gives NIST 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. It also calls for NIST to issue reports and make recommendations to improve building codes and standards.

The team will be led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, associate chief of the materials and structural systems division in NIST’s engineering laboratory. In that role, Mitrani-Reiser leads the development and coordination of statutory processes for making buildings safer. She manages and provides oversight on building failure investigations and coordinates work with other federal agencies to reduce losses from disasters and failures of our built environment.

Glenn Bell, co-director of the safety organization Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures and co-founder of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) technical council on forensic engineering, will serve as associate lead. Bell has more than 45 years of experience evaluating existing structures, investigating structural failures, and taking the lessons learned to ensure those failures are not repeated.

“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, modeling, and more, will ensure a thorough investigation.”

The technical investigation will be organized around specific projects that will seek to understand the full history of the building, including its design plans, construction, materials, modifications, site, and environment, ranging from its design to the moment of collapse.

The projects named and their leads are:

  • Building and Code History: Jim Harris and Jonathan Weigand
  • Evidence Preservation: David Goodwin and Christopher Segura
  • Materials Science: Ken Hover and Scott Jones 
  • Geotechnical Engineering: Youssef Hashash and Sissy Nikolaou 
  • Structural Engineering: Jack Moehle and Fahim Sadek 

Full biographies of the team members and descriptions of each project can be found on the NIST investigation webpages. Projects and team members may be added, as needed.

NIST says it will provide regular updates on its progress during the investigation, including through public meetings with an NCST advisory committee, annual reports to Congress, and progress reports. NIST will not issue preliminary findings or conclusions before 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.

NIST invites members of the public to submit any information, including videos, photos, or other documentation, that might help the investigation via the NIST Disaster Data Portal.

In addition to its NCST investigations, NIST notes that has more than 50 years of experience studying disasters and failures caused by fire, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and more.

Source: NIST, www.nist.gov.