The High-rise Safety Initiative is a ballot initiative that will require the NYC Department of Buildings to investigate the causes of all high-rise building collapses in New York City. The High-rise Safety Initiative will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot after the requisite number of signatures has been gathered and the petition has been found to meet all the requirements of federal, state and local law.
Under the provisions of the High-rise Safety Initiative, the Department of Buildings will have the responsibility to investigate all high-rise building collapses that occur in the future and all high-rise building collapses that occurred on or after September 11, 2001. The provisions of the High-rise Safety Initiative exclude the collapse of WTC 1 and 2, but apply to any high-rise collapse that occurs in the future as well as the collapse of World Trade Center 7 on September 11, 2001.v
In New York State, all local ballot initiatives requiring the expenditure of public funds must include a new source of revenue. The High-rise Safety Initiative proposes a .9% surcharge on construction permits issued by the Department of Buildings, estimated to raise $1 million per year. The .9% surcharge will be lifted if the High-rise Safety Fund exceeds $3 million, and reinstated if the High-rise Safety Fund falls below $1 million.
The purpose of the High-rise Safety Initiative is to make high-rises safer by compelling a new investigation into the collapse of World Trade Center 7 and by ensuring timely and comprehensive investigations when high-rise collapses occur in the future.
On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the three largest structural failures in history – the collapse of WTC 1 and WTC 2 in the morning, and later that day the collapse of World Trade Center 7, a 47-story high-rise that was located on the north side of the World Trade Center complex.
In the weeks and months after 9/11, the City of New York oversaw a massive cleanup effort that resulted in the destruction of most of the steel debris from Ground Zero, despite urgent requests from the public for the steel to be preserved. The City’s handling of the forensic evidence and the federal government’s meager efforts to investigate the disaster were roundly criticized by the 9/11 families and many voices in the engineering community.
Congressman Joseph Crowley from Queens called the destruction of the steel “borderline criminal.” Bill Manning, the Editor of Fire Engineering Magazine, called the study being conducted by FEMA a “half-baked farce” and accurately foretold that the investigation would amount to “paper- and computer-generated hypotheticals.”
The collective failure by numerous government agencies to conduct a proper forensic investigation into the three largest structural failures in history was a travesty of disaster investigation practice. By mandating the Department of Buildings to investigate all high-rise building collapses, the High-rise Safety Initiative will ensure such a failure is never repeated in New York City. High-rise building collapses will be investigated swiftly and comprehensively, findings will be based on well-preserved forensic evidence, and buildings in New York City and around the world will be made safer as a result.
World Trade Center 7
The provisions of the High-rise Safety Initiative exclude the collapse of WTC 1 and 2, but apply to the collapse of World Trade Center 7. The cause of World Trade Center 7’s collapse has great significance for building professionals because high-rises are built to withstand the types of office fires that occurred in World Trade Center 7 on 9/11. Before that day no high-rise had ever collapsed from fires.
Although the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a report on World Trade Center 7 in 2008, many experts have disputed the conclusions of this report, and the cause of the collapse continues to be disputed by Con Edison and building owner Larry Silverstein in an ongoing lawsuit. A new investigation by the City of New York will further our understanding of how and why World Trade Center 7 collapsed, leading to safer building design in the future.