A Structural Reevaluation of the Collapse of World Trade Center 7 (Executive Summary)

Figure 1 Finite element model of WTC 7 in SAP2000.

By Lead Researcher: J. Leroy Hulsey, Project Team: Feng Xiao (Associate Professor, Nanjing University of Science and Technology), Zhili Quan (Bridge Engineer, South Carolina Department of Transportation)

Source: Institute of Norther Engineering

This report presents the findings and conclusions of a four-year study of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 (WTC 7) — a 47-story building that suffered a total collapse at 5:20 PM on September 11, 2001, following the horrible events of that morning. This study was conducted by a three-person team of researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with funding provided by Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose purpose is to conduct research and educate the public about the World Trade Center building collapses on 9/11.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce that investigated the three building failures on 9/11 — the collapse of WTC 7 was the first known instance of the total collapse of a tall building primarily due to fires. However, many independent researchers have studied the collapse of WTC 7 and assembled a body of evidence that raises questions about the validity of NIST’s conclusions.

The objective of this study, therefore, was threefold: (1) Examine the structural response of WTC 7 to fire loads that may have occurred on September 11, 2001; (2) Rule out scenarios that could not have caused the observed collapse; and (3) Identify types of failures and their locations that may have caused the total collapse to occur as observed.

The UAF research team utilized three approaches for examining the structural response of WTC 7 to the conditions that may have occurred on September 11, 2001. First, we simulated the local structural response to fire loading that may have occurred below Floor 13, where most of the fires in WTC 7 are reported to have occurred. Second, we supplemented our own simulation by examining the collapse initiation hypothesis developed by NIST. We also reviewed the collapse initiation hypotheses advanced by private engineering firms whose studies were commissioned as part of litigation related to the collapse of WTC 7. Third, we simulated a number of scenarios within the overall structural system in order to determine what types of local failures and their locations may have caused the total collapse to occur as observed.

Fire Did Not Cause the Collapse of WTC 7

The principal conclusion of our study is that fire did not cause the collapse of WTC 7 on 9/11, contrary to the conclusions of NIST and private engineering firms that studied the collapse.

This conclusion is based upon a number of findings from our different analyses. Together, they show that fires could not have caused weakening or displacement of structural members capable of initiating any of the hypothetical local failures alleged to have triggered the total collapse of the building, nor could any local failures, even if they had occurred, have triggered a sequence of failures that would have resulted in the observed total collapse.

Near-Simultaneous Failure of Every Column Explains the Collapse

The secondary conclusion of our study is that the collapse of WTC 7 was a global failure involving the near-simultaneous failure of every column in the building.

This conclusion is based primarily upon the finding that the simultaneous failure of all core columns over 8 stories followed 1.3 seconds later by the simultaneous failure of all exterior columns over 8 stories produces almost exactly the behavior observed in videos of the collapse, whereas no other sequence of failures that we simulated produced the observed behavior. We cannot completely rule out the possibility that an alternative scenario may have caused the observed collapse; however, the near-simultaneous failure of every column is the only scenario we identified that was capable of producing the observed behavior.

Key Findings Upon Which the UAF Team’s Conclusions Are Based

Approach 1 Findings

•During our nonlinear connection study (Section 2.1.3.2), we discovered that NIST over-estimated the rigidity of the outside frame by not modeling its connections, essentially treating the exterior steel framing as thermally fixed, which caused all thermally-induced floor expansion to move away from the exterior. The exterior steel framing was actually flexible, while the stiffest area resistant to thermal movements, i.e., the point of zero thermal movement, was near the elevator shafts.

•Therefore, during our analysis of WTC 7’s response to fire loading (Section 2.6), we found the overall thermal movements at the A2001 base plate support near Column 79 were not sufficient to displace girder A2001 to the point that it walked off its seat (the initiating failure alleged by NIST). Whereas NIST asserted that the differential westward displacement of girder A2001 relative to Column 79 was 5.5 inches and later revised its calculation to 6.25 inches, we found that the westward displacement of girder A2001 relative to Column 79 would have been less than 1 inch under the fire conditions reported by NIST.

Approach 2 Findings

Under our second approach, we used a solid element model to evaluate the validity of NIST’s collapse initiation hypothesis, introducing a number of assumptions made by NIST that we considered to be invalid or, at best, questionable (Section 3.1). These assumptions included assuming the east exterior wall to be rigid and thermally fixed, assuming shear studs on several beams were broken due to differential thermal movement, assuming no shear studs were installed on girder A2001, and assuming that the bolts fastening girder A2001 to its seats at Columns 44 and 79 were broken (Section 3.1.1). Allowing for these overly generous assumptions, we found the following:

•When girder A2001 is heated to the temperatures assumed by NIST, it expands such that it becomes trapped behind the side plate on the western side of Column 79 as it is pushed to the west by thermally expanding floor beams. This prevents the girder’s web from traveling beyond the bearing seat, thus preventing the girder from walking off its seat (Section 3.2.1).

•NIST, by its own admission, did not include the partial height web stiffeners known to be on girder A2001. In addition to stiffening the web, these stiffeners significantly increase the bending resistance of the flange. In a subsequent analysis where we removed the side plate described in the previous analysis in order to allow for further westward travel of girder A2001, we found that the stresses in the girder flange and stiffener would not be sufficient to cause the flange to fail, thus preventing the girder from walking off its seat (Section 3.2.2).

•In a preliminary collapse initiation hypothesis, NIST posited that beam G3005 buckled because its thermal expansion was restrained by girder A2001. We found that this can happen only when the three lateral support beams S3007, G3007, and K3007 spanning from beam G3005 to the north exterior wall are not included in the model. While these short beams are observed in some of the figures in the NIST report, they are missing from the model(s) used in the thermal and structural analysis shown in the report (Section 3.2.3).

Separate from the NIST investigation, two studies of WTC 7’s collapse were commissioned by opposing sides in the lawsuit “Aegis Insurance Services, Inc. v. 7 World Trade Center Company, L.P.” Experts working in connection with engineering firms Ove Arup & Partners (Arup) and Guy Nordenson and Associates (Nordenson) were retained by the plaintiffs. The engineering firm Weidlinger Associates Inc. (Weidlinger) was retained by the defendants. After evaluating NIST’s collapse initiation hypothesis, we reviewed the Arup, Nordenson, and Weidlinger reports and found the following:

•Arup’s finite element analysis corroborates our finding that girder A2001 would become trapped behind the western side plate of Column 79. However, Arup’s analysis then goes on to contend that the five beams to the east of girder A2001 were heated enough to sag and pull the girder to the east and off of its seats. Putting aside whether this initiating mechanism is valid, we found that Nordenson incorrectly calculated the impact force of the falling girder by considering it as a point load, thus implying an infinite stiffness and no deflection. Calculating the impact force correctly, we found that it is only 34% of the 632,000 lb. force required to shear the girder bearing seat support welds at Floor 12. Therefore, the northeast corner of Floor 12 would not have collapsed if the Floor 13 girder came off its seat at Column 79, and a cascade of floor failures would not ensue.

•The Weidlinger report was prepared as a rebuttal to the Arup and Nordenson reports. Among its points of rebuttal, it corroborates our finding that the falling Floor 13 beam and girder assembly could not break through Floor 12. The Weidlinger report contends instead that Floors 9 and 10 were simultaneously heated to between 750° and 800°C in the exact same area of each floor, eventually causing those floors to fail and triggering a cascade of floor failures down to Floor 5. However, the details of the thermal analysis are not shown in the Weidlinger report, and the thermal analysis has not been made public. It is important to understand that steel structural members reaching temperatures of 750°C due to office fires can be considered extraordinary. Without any analysis provided to substantiate such temperatures, Weidlinger’s collapse initiation hypothesis must be viewed skeptically and can be assumed to have a very low probability of occurrence (Section 3.4.1).

Approach 3 Findings

Under our third approach, we simulated a number of hypothetical scenarios in order to determine what types of local failures and their locations may have caused the total collapse to occur as observed. Based upon a series of analyses, we found the following:

•Columns 79, 80, and 81 did not fail at the lower floors of the building, as asserted by NIST. In order to allow for the observed collapse of the east penthouse approximately 7 seconds prior to the collapse of the rest of the structure, these columns needed to have failed at the upper floors of the building all the way to the penthouse. Yet there were no documented fires above Floor 30. Therefore, fire did not cause the collapse of Columns 79, 80, and 81 nor the collapse of the east penthouse (Section 4.3).

•The hypothetical failure of Columns 79, 80, and 81 — the three easternmost core columns — would not trigger a horizontal progression of core column failures. Therefore, the hypotheses of NIST, Arup/Nordenson, and Weidlinger that the buckling of Column 79 could trigger a progressive collapse of the entire building are invalid, and the collapse of Columns 79, 80, and 81 high in the building was a separate and distinct event (Section 4.4). •Even if we assume the failure of Columns 79, 80, and 81 could lead to the failure of the next row of core columns, the hypothetical failure of Columns 76 to 81 would overload the exterior columns around the southeast of the building, rather than overloading the next row of core columns to the west, which would result in the building tipping to the southeast and not in a straight-down collapse (Section 4.4).

•The hypothetical simultaneous failure of all core columns (but not exterior columns) would cause the building to tip to the southwest rather than causing a straight-down collapse (Section 4.5).

•The simultaneous failure of all core columns over 8 stories followed 1.3 seconds later by the simultaneous failure of all exterior columns over 8 stories produces almost exactly the behavior observed in videos of the collapse. The collapse could have started at Floor 16 and below and produced the same behavior (Section 4.6).

It is our conclusion based upon these findings that the collapse of WTC 7 was a global failure involving the near-simultaneous failure of all columns in the building and not a progressive collapse involving the sequential failure of columns throughout the building.

 

Read the entire document here: http://ine.uaf.edu/media/222439/uaf_wtc7_draft_report_09-03-2019.pdf

Related videos and follow-up can be found at Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth: https://www.ae911truth.org/wtc7

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