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Leaving 9/11 behind


Fear not - broadcasters and newspaper publishers will ensure that you do not miss the fact that this week marks the the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Rightly so. This was without question one of the biggest political and social landmarks for generations and we should take time to reflect on where we find ourselves since then.

The 'where were you when you heard the news' stories will I'm sure be once again told all across the world and it is right and appropriate that this is the case.

Even as the shocking events unfolded in 2001 it was clear to all that the world would never be the same again. The recent ratcheting of air travel security following last month's foiled terror attacks were in many ways inevitable.

While the possibility of terrorist attack can never be considered acceptable in any society, we have learned to live with the constant dark cloud of threat - real or perceived - that now hangs over us all.

For the most part we have accepted increased and more visible security forces, increased bag checks, increased security cameras, increased delays to travel and increased invasion of our person liberty for the sake of the greater good.

We have also accepted the need for high prole additions to public infrastructure to prevent vehicles and people getting too close - although perhaps residents of London's Grosvenor Square, home of the US Embassy might disagree.

Yet on the other hand so little has really changed. Despite all the security increases there is no feeling - even in the heart of London - of living in a controlled or oppressed environment. We can still fly with little difficulty anywhere in the world at any time, public transport use continues to grow.

And as NCE's tall buildings conference next week will explain, the desire to build, inhabit and work in ever taller buildings just keeps growing.

Five years ago, hours after live television pictures relayed the unfolding news to the world, this column attempted - having just marked the scale of the human tragedy - to look forward to the role that engineers would play in ensuring that the public's faith in its infrastructure was quickly restored.

'Certainly the dynamics of what happened are clear to see, but could structural engineers have done anything about it?

Could or should such high profie buildings have been better protected?' I wrote.

It is reassuring that over the last e years engineers have spent much time and effort tackling these and similar questions.

That we are still designing and building radical, cutting edge tall buildings is testimony to the profession's ability to manage and design for the new risks.

The findings and recommendations made last year by US National Institute of Science & Technology (NIST) following its investigation into the World Trade Center collapses continue to be disputed and discussed by professionals around the world.

Perhaps that is right. Perhaps this was inevitable.

Consultation on the NIST report ends this month and then we will know whether or not any formal design code changes will follow. If the design process can be improved, this will be a successful outcome.

Five years on from 9/11 we can celebrate the fact that the engineering profession has successfully reassured the public that, despite the on-going threat and despite London's 7/7 attacks it can carry on with 'normal' life.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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