Responsibilities Under the
National Construction Safety Team Act
does the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act do?
act (.pdf), signed into law on Oct. 1, 2002, by President Bush,
authorizes the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
to establish teams to investigate building failures. These authorities
are modeled after those of the National Transportation Safety Board
(NTSB) for investigating transportation accidents. NIST is a non-regulatory
agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
date, NIST has conducted two major construction safety investigations
under the NCST: a building and fire safety investigation of the
Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center fire and building collapses;
and the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick,
was the previous authority under which NIST conducted structural
legislative authority under which NIST conducted structural investigations
prior to the NCST is found in 15 U.S. Code Sec. 281a - Structural
Failures. This law states that “NIST, on its own initiative
but only after consultation with local authorities, may initiate
and conduct investigations to determine the causes of structural
failures in structures that are used or occupied by the general
public. No part of any report resulting from such investigation
shall be admitted as evidence or used in any suit or action for
damages arising out of any matter mentioned in such report.”
NIST also is a technical support agency within the Federal Response
Plan that outlines how the federal government will respond to major
disaster declarations under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief
And Emergency Assistance Act.
What was NIST’s prior role in the investigation of
Prior to the
enactment of the NCST, NIST’s role in the investigation of
structural failures typically included:
probable technical cause(s) of the high-magnitude consequences
in the context of current practice and codes and standards;
issues and making safety recommendations for existing or new facilities
through improvements to codes, standards, and practices;
the technical basis for needed changes or improvements to practice
or standards and codes that will enhance public safety and health
and homeland security; and,
technically sound, archival, publicly available documents as references
for future investigations or responsive actions.
agency, NIST did not consider findings of fault, responsibility,
or negligence. NIST’s new authorities do not change that approach.
For more information
on NIST’s extensive experience and expertise in conducting
disaster investigations following structural/construction failures,
fires, and natural disasters, see the fact sheet on past NIST investigations
available online at http://wtc.nist.gov.
does the NCST give to NIST?
The NCST gives
NIST responsibility to dispatch teams of experts, where appropriate
and practical, within 48 hours after major building disasters.
The act specifically
states that at least one member of each team must be a NIST employee.
The act gives
the teams a clear mandate to:
the likely technical cause of building failures;
the technical aspects of procedures used for evacuation and emergency
specific changes to building codes, standards, and practices;
any research or other appropriate actions needed to improve the
structural safety of buildings; and/or changes in emergency response
and evacuation procedures; and,
- make final
recommendations within 90 days of completing an investigation.
authorities does the NCST give NIST?
purpose of the act is “... to provide for the establishment
of investigative teams to assess building performance and emergency
response and evacuation procedures in the wake of any building failure
that has resulted in substantial loss of life or that posed the
potential for substantial loss of life.” Investigations are
conducted under its authorities “... to improve the safety
and structural integrity of buildings in the United States.”
In this context,
the act gives NIST and its teams comprehensive investigative authorities
- access the
site of a building disaster;
- access key
pieces of evidence such as records and documents; and
- move and
does the NCST say about NIST’s responsibilities for communicating
to the public about structural failure investigations?
The act calls
for NIST to brief the public regularly on the status of investigative
proceedings and findings.
happens after NIST completes its investigation and publishes a report?
The act authorizes
NIST to take the following actions based on its investigation reports:
enable, or encourage appropriate research as recommended by the
investigation teams; and
appropriate adoption of the investigation team’s recommendations.
an advisory committee to provide guidance for and independent review
of NCST investigations?
Under the law,
the NIST Director, in consultation with the U.S. Fire Administration
and other appropriate federal agencies, maintains a standing advisory
committee of as many as 10 persons to advise him or her on carrying
out the act, and to review procedures and reports issued. Members
of the committee must have received recognition for distinguished
professional service, possess broad technical expertise and experience,
and have a reputation for independence, objectivity, and impartiality.
is known as the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory
On Jan. 1
of each year, the advisory committee transmits to the Committee
on Science of the House of Representatives and to the Committee
on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a report
- an evaluation
of NCST activities, along with recommendations to improve the
operation and effectiveness of investigation teams; and
- an assessment
of the implementation of the recommendations of teams and of the
the act give NIST any authority to create and enforce reforms in
building and fire safety codes, standards and practices?
No, the act
specifically states that NIST is not authorized to require the adoption
of building codes, standards or practices. NIST is not a regulatory
agency, so it does not determine which building and fire safety
codes, standards and practices get adopted by state and local governments.
However, NIST researchers are active participants in many standards
developing and professional organizations. Thus, NIST research typically
provides the technical basis for new and improved standards, codes
and practices. NIST will work actively with other organizations
to ensure that “lessons learned” from investigations
are put to use.
NIST and the New York City Building Code Task Force—whose
areas of focus closely parallel the main areas being addressed in
the NIST investigation of and response plan for the World Trade
Center disaster—are keeping each other informed as NIST moves
forward with its response plan and New York City addresses its immediate
and long-term building code needs.
will the activities under the NCST be funded?
NIST estimates that the
annual cost of maintaining a response readiness capability will
be approximately $1.5 million. Unless additional funding is received,
NIST will have to redirect current funding in support of the NCST.
For more information,
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see NIST Construction Safety Investigations