NEW YORK City officials and engineers are locked in a wrangle over whether they should revise design codes for tall buildings following last year's World Trade Center attacks.
Engineers, victims and building owners expressed a wide range of views at a public forum held last week by a task force of the New York City Department of Buildings. The task force plans to hold a series of public meetings to help it decide whether to change the city's building codes.
Relatives of victims argued for revisions to increase the time and options for escape.
But New York's main group representing building owners said high-rise structures were safe and only minor changes to prevailing codes were needed.
'Basically we feel that high rise buildings are extremely safe, and are the safest buildings in New York and probably the world, ' Real Estate Board of New York senior vice president Marolyn Davenport told NCE.
But she said that 'operational changes' which would require building owners to have plans for full evacuation of buildings could be expected. Currently, the New York Fire Department requires only partial evacuation from sections of tall buildings close to a fire.
Other changes requiring enhanced lighting and provision of structural information to the first emergency services responding to a fire could also follow, she said.
A consultant on building use, who produced a critical study into evacuation procedures from the WTC after its basement car park was bombed in 1993, claimed that little had been learned from that event.
'The past 30 years has seen massive changes in the means of egress required by national codes, but New York has missed out on that and its codes are 30 years out of date, ' Consulting Services in Building Use & Safety principal Jake Pauls told NCE.
He said New York allowed steeper stairs and narrower stairwells than national codes, while handrail requirements were also more lax. Compliance with New York codes is sufficient for structures built in the city.
'New York's building codes are typical of the 1960s. Many buildings have been built to these codes since then, and serious questions are now being asked as to what retrofitting would be needed to make exits work better, ' Pauls added.
New York codes also contain no explicit requirements for design against progressive collapse.
Structural Engineers' Association of New York (SEAoNY) treasurer John Baranello said SEAoNY had not taken a formal stance about whether changes to codes are needed.
'We are working with the Building Department to advise them on the differences between New York City codes and others but we are not saying whether there should be changes or not, ' said Baranello.
The task force is expected to make recommendations to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg by early next year.
Diarmaid Fleming INFOPLUS www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine /wtc