What is the High-Rise Safety Initiative?
The High-Rise Safety Initiative is a ballot measure that will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot in New York City. If approved by voters, it will require the NYC Department of Buildings to investigate high-rise building collapses in NYC that occurred on, or any time after, September 11, 2001. Its provisions exclude the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, but apply to the collapse of World Trade Center 7 and any high-rise collapse that may occur in the future.
Because all local ballot measures in New York State that require the expenditure of public funds must include their own revenue source, the High-Rise Safety Initiative proposes a .9% surcharge on construction permits issued by the Department of Buildings. This is estimated to raise $1 million per year, which, when passed, will cover the anticipated cost to the City. This .9% surcharge would be lifted, however, if the High-Rise Safety Fund exceeds $3 million, and reinstituted if the High-Rise Safety Fund falls below $1 million.
Our goal is to make New York City a safer place to live and work. The High-Rise Safety Initiative will accomplish this first by conducting a robust investigation into the collapse of World Trade Center 7, and second by ensuring that timely and comprehensive investigations are carried out if high-rise collapses occur in the future.
On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the three largest structural failures in history – the collapse of World Trade Center 1 and 2 in the morning, and later that day the collapse of World Trade Center 7, a 47-story high-rise located on the north side of the World Trade Center complex.
In the weeks and months after 9/11, the City of New York conducted a massive cleanup effort that had an unfortunate consequence: it resulted in the destruction of most of the steel debris from the buildings, making a proper forensic investigation into how the buildings collapsed impossible. The “Building Performance Study” conducted by FEMA in the first year after 9/11 and the investigation later conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology were therefore based almost entirely on “paper- and computer-generated hypotheticals” as predicted by Fire Engineering Magazine editor Bill Manning, who decried the investigation as a “half-baked farce.” It is because of this that we were unable to learn valuable lessons from the catastrophe, lessons that could save lives by improving and safeguarding the structural integrity of New York City buildings.
By requiring the Department of Buildings to investigate high-rise building collapses, the High-Rise Safety Initiative will help ensure that we never see another building collapse in New York City. With this new charter provision, investigations will be conducted 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.
World Trade Center 7
Before 9/11, no high-rise building had ever collapsed as a result of fire. High-rises are built to withstand all types of office fires, including that which occurred in World Trade Center 7, which is why its collapse has great significance for architectural and engineering professionals in New York City and across the globe. There are valuable lessons to learn from its collapse, lessons that can and will save lives.
Although the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a report on World Trade Center 7 in 2008, it was imperfect first and foremost because the destruction of the steel in the building’s cleanup necessitated over-reliance on a computer model for its investigation. Experts dispute NIST’s conclusions, citing the omission of critical structural features from the model and the model’s failure to reproduce the observed free-fall motion. Curiously, NIST refused to release modeling data on the grounds that its release “might jeopardize public safety,” thus preventing engineers from being able to independently verify its model and findings. A new investigation by the City of New York will allow for these shortcomings to be addressed, thus furthering our understanding of how World Trade Center 7 collapsed and leading to safer building design in the future.
Ballot Initiative Process
New York Municipal Home Rule law allows for voters in New York State to amend their city charters through a ballot initiative process. In order for the proposed charter amendment to appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot, the High-Rise Safety Initiative must file a petition with the City of New York containing at least 30,000 signatures from registered New York City voters by July 3, 2014. If the City Council does not adopt the proposed charter amendment or vote to put it on the November 2014 ballot after two months, the High-Rise Safety Initiative can file a second petition containing at least 15,000 signatures by September 4 and thereby ensure that the proposed charter amendment appears on the November 2014 ballot.