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Profile: Glenn Corbett

Glenn Corbett was a participant or observer in the following events:

The House Committee on Science holds a hearing on the investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Witnesses from industry, academia, and government testify on the collapses and the subsequent efforts to find out how and why they occurred. The hearings charter points out several problems that have severely hampered investigations. It says, “Early confusion over who was in charge of the [WTC collapse] site and the lack of authority of investigators to impound pieces of steel for examination before they were recycled led to the loss of important pieces of evidence that were destroyed early during the search and rescue effort.… Some of the critical pieces of steel—including the suspension trusses from the top of the towers and the internal support columns—were gone before the first BPAT [Building Performance Assessment Team] team member ever reached the site” (see September 12-October 2001). Furthermore, “The building owners, designers and insurers, prevented independent researchers from gaining access—and delayed the BPAT team in gaining access—to pertinent building documents largely because of liability concerns.” Regarding the decision to rapidly recycle the WTC steel, US Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) says, “I do believe that conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this,” and says this loss of important physical evidence “is not only unfortunate, it is borderline criminal.” In his statement before the committee, Glenn Corbett, a science professor at John Jay College, claims that the “lack of significant amounts of steel for examination will make it difficult, if not impossible, to make a definitive statement as to the cause and chronology of the collapse.” He also complains, “[W]e are staffing the BPAT with part-time engineers and scientists on a shoestring budget.” (US Congress 3/6/2002; McCaffrey 3/7/2002)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—an agency of the US Commerce Department’s Technology Administration—announces details of its forthcoming investigation into the collapses of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7 on 9/11. The NIST investigation aims “to investigate the building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that contributed to the outcome of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster.” It also aims to examine the activities of building occupants and emergency responders on 9/11, studying such issues as emergency communications within the WTC, the movement of people during the evacuations, and issues around persons with disabilities. Leading technical experts from industry, academia, and other laboratories, alongside NIST’s own expert staff, will participate in the investigation. Expert professionals from the private sector will also be involved. Glenn Corbett, a fire science professor at John Jay College, says, “This is going to be the most extensive building disaster investigation ever performed.” (Associated Press 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/3/2005) The investigation is formally authorized in October 2002, when the National Construction Safety Team Act is signed into law. The act, which gives NIST authorization to investigate major building failures in the US, is written largely as a result of the World Trade Center collapses. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 10/2/2002; Glanz 5/8/2003) NIST’s investigation is originally proposed to last two years, with a budget of $16 million. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2002) However, it eventually will last three years, with its final report into the collapses of the Twin Towers being released in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). A previous analysis of the WTC collapses conducted by FEMA and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was completed earlier in 2002 (see May 1, 2002), but this had a budget of just $1.1 million. By the time NIST starts its investigation, much of the crucial steel debris from the WTC collapses has already been destroyed (see September 12-October 2001). They later refer to there being a “scarcity of physical evidence that is typically available in place for reconstruction of a disaster.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. xxxvi)

The 43 NIST reports ran to over 10,000 pages.The 43 NIST reports ran to over 10,000 pages. [Source: NIST]The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issues the final report of its three-year, $16 million study into the WTC collapses on 9/11. NIST has produced over 10,000 pages of findings, and its report includes 30 recommendations for improving building safety, such as having wider stairwells and structurally hardened elevators for use in emergencies. The recommendations are mostly the same as those outlined in an earlier draft of the report (see June 23, 2005). (Ichniowski 10/27/2005; Lipton 10/27/2005) NIST has made some amendments and clarifications, though, based upon nearly 500 comments received during a six-week public review period. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 10/26/2005) NIST’s theory about what caused the Twin Towers to collapse remains the same as that described in its previously released findings (see October 19, 2004). However, the NIST’s account only examines events up to the initiation of each collapse; the investigation “does not actually include the structural behavior of the tower after the conditions for collapse initiation were reached and collapse became inevitable.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 82) NIST makes no mention of molten metal found at the collapse site in the weeks and months after 9/11, which has been described in numerous reports (see September 12, 2001-February 2002). The “NIST found no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses suggesting that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition using explosives planted prior to September 11, 2001.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 146) Members of Congress are critical of NIST’s recommendations, saying they are not detailed enough, or adequately documented, to be rapidly incorporated into standard building code publications. (Lipton 10/27/2005) According to Glenn Corbett, a technical adviser to NIST and fire science professor at John Jay College, NIST is not aggressive enough to carry out major forensic investigations. He says, “Instead of a gumshoe inquiry that left no stone unturned, I believe the investigations were treated more like research projects in which they waited for information to flow to them.” (Barrett 10/26/2005; US Congress 10/26/2005 pdf file) NIST will release its final report on the collapse of Building 7 of the WTC separately, at a later date. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. xiii)

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