Building Collapse-Miami

Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building after it partially collapsed June 30 in Surfside, Florida.

Here are some of the things you will see on the video released Wednesday by the national team investigating the Surfside condo collapse: twisted metal reinforcement rods jutting out of huge chunks of concrete, a caved-in car, a support column with what looks like severe corrosion at its base and concrete on a wall that appears to crumble in an investigator’s hands.

Possible indications, in other words, of some of the very problems identified by a Miami Herald investigation earlier this month into the June 24 disaster at the Champlain Towers South that killed 98 people.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, released the new footage to the public this week, saying it will provide regular updates on the progress of the investigation. That’s exactly the kind of transparency and openness that we need in South Florida right now.

The NIST team — led by Judith Mitrani-Reiser, a Cuban-born engineer who grew up in Miami — is also involving the public in another way, inviting anyone with videos, photos or other documentation that might help the investigation to submit it via the NIST Disaster Data Portal. NIST is the same organization that investigated the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York after 9/11.

We’re trying to cope with the unthinkable here — a 12-story building that fell without warning in the middle of the night — while also remaining vigilant in our determination to hold those responsible to account. Regular communication about where the investigation stands will help us process this tragedy while we try to prevent any others.

Transparency in this investigation will also serve another purpose. It will help keep the heat on local governments to inspect old buildings, reconsider building codes and reevaluate those 40-year building recertifications required in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. People’s lives may depend on it; we cannot allow those good intentions to slip away.

Already, the increased scrutiny of older buildings has paid off: the historic Miami-Dade courthouse was closed down after a post-Surfside inspection turned up safety issues. Condo buildings have been evacuated, too. Boca Raton in Palm Beach County has started inspecting more than 200 older buildings, and the Florida Bar set up a task force to look into possible statute changes.

There are lessons we must learn from the tragedy, and the video — and other information from NIST as the investigation proceeds — will provide a place to start. Was the design flawed from the start? Were inspections lacking? And were other buildings constructed with similar structural issues waiting to go off like a time bomb 40 years down the line?

The Herald’s investigation, done in consultation with four engineers and a general contractor, turned up indications that columns were designed too narrow to safely accommodate the amount of reinforcing steel called for in construction plans at the basement and ground floors. The video offers more evidence that overcrowded concrete reinforcement and extensive corrosion may have played a role in the collapse.

As Dawn Lehman, professor of structural engineering at the University of Washington and one of the Herald’s consultants, said, the extensive corrosion where one column met the building’s foundation was “astronomical.” She noted that a problem like that should have been discovered in the 40-year recertification of the Champlain Towers South condo that was under way when the building fell.

That’s why we need this investigation, and why we need to hear — in real time — what investigators are learning. Our safety depends on it.

— Miami Herald

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