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Speech by Dr. Arden Bement
Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology
at Construction Industry Institute
Aug. 7, 2002


Thank you, Duane, for that kind introduction. CII and NIST have had a long and productive partnership and I am delighted to join you today to speak to key leaders in one of our country's most vital industries.
A strong, vibrant construction industry is a hallmark of a great society. You do not just build individual plants, bridges, buildings, and countless other facilities-you help build nations.

Your industry is a cornerstone to America's security, global competitiveness, and strong economy.In the months and years to come, you will play an even greater role in helping secure the nation's physical infrastructure to overcome many challenges-the war on terrorism, a struggling economy, and safeguarding Americans and our built infrastructure from terrorist threats.

The events of September 11 and their aftermath have taught us much about ourselves and about America. We have witnessed the incredible courage of fire fighters and police officers; the bravery and sacrifice of our men and women in the military; the selfless dedication of the rescue, recovery and clean-up workers; and the generosity and decency of our fellow citizens.

As horrible as these events were, they have accomplished the opposite of their intent. They have awakened the greatness of America, and have led to a shared sense of purpose - the protection and security of our citizens and of our nation. As President Bush said last September, "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America."

Many say that September 11 has changed everything. A cliché? Perhaps. Like most clichés, the assertion is probably an overstatement. But, like all clichés, it contains a lot of truth.

That is certainly the case for the construction and building communities. The terrorist attacks of September 11 have made the security of our bridges, tunnels, plants, airports, and other facilities a priority in their design, construction, operation, maintenance, and use.

The attacks have shined the national spotlight on the role of the construction industry in homeland security.

Your industry has risen to the challenge of helping America's built environment become safer and more secure in an era of increased danger while, at the same time, helping to restore its economic vitality.

Of course, all of us at the Department of Commerce are vitally interested in both homeland security and a strong economy and understand, as the old song says, "You can't have one without the other." As the director of the largest U.S. government laboratory with "technology" in its name, I firmly believe that a strong technology base is going to play a key role in helping the United States not only win the war on terrorism and strengthen our nation's security, but also improve our economic security and growth and global competitiveness.

I am not the only one with that belief. President Bush and the entire Administration, including the Department of Commerce, are committed to strengthening American leadership in science and technology and hastening the flow of new knowledge, new capabilities, and new products. Commerce Secretary Don Evans recently said, "President Bush recognizes how important technology is, has been, and will be to our nation's long-term economic and national security and prosperity."

Having seen CII's most recent strategic plan and the "Vision 2020" document, I know that technology is crucial to you as well. Your industry is on the verge of a technology revolution that will not only help secure a safer nation but also help you maintain economic leadership in the global economy.

As I once heard a wise person say, "Technology doesn't come from the tooth fairy." It comes from public- and private-sector investments in R&D, coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take risks.

While the private sector must take the lead in technology development, the federal government has an important role to play in ensuring that the United States is on the leading edge of technology and competitive in the global marketplace.

That is where NIST comes in. We help take away some of the risk.

As an agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST works with the private sector to develop and promote measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life.With a 100-year record of success, NIST is the only federal agency with this mission.

The construction industry is one of the sectors that NIST has worked with throughout our 100 years. In particular, I am proud of NIST's decade-long, very fruitful, partnership with CII.

Over the years, NIST staff has been very actively involved in a variety of CII activities, including research, benchmarking and metrics, and strategic planning.
NIST is proud to be a member of CII, to be a part of what you have done to increase safety, to reduce costs and improve productivity. We are excited to be partners with CII in FIATECH - an industry-led research consortium - leveraging each other's programs to bring fully integrated and automated processes to projects; to develop tools for benchmarking performance improvements; and to seek breakthroughs through research and development.Later today you can learn more about a project in which NIST is partnering with CII and FIATECH to identify supply chain barriers and to develop needed information interchange standards for e-business in the construction industry. In fact, it's the track record of CII that makes me confident you will lead the way on security of our physical infrastructures. We intend to continue to build on our shared, solid foundation of accomplishments.

While it is hard these days to find "bright spots," the tragedy of September 11 has pushed technology to center stage. That is important not only for homeland security, but also because new or better technology can lead to a brighter economic future not only for the construction industry but also for America.
The events of September 11th have had, and will continue to have, a major affect on your industry. As you can well imagine, these events are also changing the way NIST does business.

NIST has a history of responding to national needs.In times of war or other national emergencies, NIST scientists and engineers have stepped forward with a vast array of expertise and knowledge in areas as diverse as radio transmission and forensic DNA typing.

NIST's role in Homeland Security already involves some 75 projects addressing a broad range of topics as outlined on this slide-clockwise from upper left they include:

  • Standards for security, X-ray machines, and metal detectors;
  • Standards for biometric identification of visa applicants and others;
  • Standards and techniques for DNA analysis and certification of forensic testing labs;
  • Simulation of anthrax dispersion in the Hart Senate office building;
  • Standards for seamless communication and data exchange among law enforcement and public safety agencies; and
  • Establishing and verifying the irradiation dosage for processing mail potentially contaminated by anthrax.


NIST also is preparing to lead a broad public-private partnership to respond to the disastrous events of September 11. The collapse of the World Trade Center buildings was one of the worst building disasters ever recorded. In an event of unprecedented death and destruction, nearly 3,000 occupants and emergency responders lost their lives. The building community, emergency responders, and the nation did not anticipate, and were largely unprepared, for this catastrophe. This partnership has three main elements:

  1. A building and fire safety investigation into the probable technical causes of the World Trade Center disaster;
  2. A multi-year R&D program to provide the technical basis for improved building and fire codes, standards, and practices; and
  3. An industry-led program to disseminate practical guidance and tools to help many of you in the audience - including facility owners, contractors, and designers - as well as emergency responders and regulatory authorities better respond to future disasters.


Our investigation addresses the major recommendations of the report of the building performance assessment team - known as BPAT - sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and led by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The investigation is planned to take 24 months. It will focus on the World Trade Center Towers and the 47-story building that collapsed as a result of fire later in the day on September 11.

The investigation will examine:

  • Why and how the World Trade Center buildings collapsed following the aircrafts' impacts;
  • Why the number of injuries and fatalities were so low or high depending on location, including all technical aspects of fire protection, occupant behavior, evacuation, and emergency response;
  • What procedures and practices were used in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the World Trade Center buildings; and
  • Which building and fire codes, standards, and practices warrant revision and are still in use.


From this 3-pronged response plan, we expect to learn - and pass on - many, many lessons in several different areas, including structural fire protection, life safety, and engineering practice.

For example, we hope to gain a better understanding of

  • The dynamics of building fires and the collapse vulnerability of buildings to fires;
  • Methods for fire safety design and retrofit;
  • The performance of fire-proofing materials, connections, and steel trusses;
  • Collapse mechanisms and the role of pivotal components such as transfer girders and floor diaphragms.
  • Firefighting and evacuation technologies and practices for tall buildings;
  • Control of fire spread in buildings with large, open floor plans;
  • The process for evaluation of innovative systems and systems requiring code variances;
  • The margin of safety to accommodate abnormal loads; and
  • The value of smart sensing systems, IT integration and automation for security, safety and improved performance.


We expect the bottom line of these efforts to be safer, more secure facilities, and better emergency response capabilities and procedures. All of which will mean reduced vulnerability of people and facilities.

This project is a huge responsibility, and an even bigger challenge. But, our folks are eager to begin and are extremely proud of the President's faith in our ability to get the job done.

Of course, in typical NIST fashion, we have been and will continue to draw on the capabilities, expertise, and advice of a broad coalition of private and public-sector experts and organizations.

One of the groups we are in close contact with is the families of victims who died in the buildings-either as occupants who could not escape or emergency responders who themselves became victims in the fire and subsequent collapse.They have begun a grassroots effort with two goals.

First, they are supporting an investigation of the World Trade Center building collapses and how the occupants and first responders' fates were tied to the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and use of the buildings.

Second, they seek an overhaul of the nation's building standards and codes to address several of their major concerns about the safety of all tall buildings.
Their effort is well-organized and has been very effective in capturing the attention of federal decision makers and the news media. It is incumbent on the construction community to give this group's concerns close attention.

You can find our proposed plan and more information on the investigation on our website at http://wtc.nist.gov.

The key to changing practice, standards and codes is active support from, and participation by, industry, government, and other groups working together in ways that include partnerships in technology development, collaborative and leveraged funded programs, and the voluntary consensus standards-making process.

As part of that effort, NIST, CII, and the other organizations listed on this slide have launched The Infrastructure Security Partnership - what we are calling T-I-S-P.

Shortly after September 11, TISP was formed to pool the resources, strengths and knowledge of a wide variety of organizations and to provide a forum for these organizations to collaborate on issues related to the security of the nation's built environment.

TISP is made up of 90 organizations, including government agencies at all levels; professional associations and societies; industry trade groups; code and standards associations; and associations of infrastructure developers, owners and operators.

The Partnership's objectives include improving anti-terrorism and asset protection methods, identifying and disseminating security information, and encouraging the development of methods to assess vulnerabilities.

You can find out more about TISP later today in the Homeland Security implementation sessions or from the TISP web site at www.tisp.org.
The events of September 11 shook us to the core. Some doubted we could recover. But, with true American spirit and optimism, we are rebounding.
Unfortunately, terrorism is not the only threat to our nation's stability and prosperity. Confidence in American business and our free-market system has been shaken recently by the activities of a few unscrupulous business leaders.

For America to continue to have an economy that is the envy of the world, we need sound businesses with ethical, responsible leaders. "CEO" should stand not only for Chief Executive Officer, but also Chief Ethical Officer. I'm sure that you and your companies are focusing lots of attention on this topic, so I am not going to dwell on it.

But, if you are looking for ways to address these issues, I urge you to closely examine the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. The Baldrige National Quality Program-one of NIST's four major programs-promotes performance excellence among U.S. organizations and manages the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award competition.

The criteria include sections on corporate leadership and responsibility, and have been used by thousands of businesses to improve their competitive edge. Many CII members are involved in the public-private partnership which makes the Baldrige program possible. They include Eastman Chemical Company, which won the Baldrige Award in 1993; Abbott Laboratories, Cargill, and General Motors, which have employees on the Award's Board of Examiners; and Bechtel Group, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Honeywell which are part of the Baldrige Award Foundation.Just a few weeks ago, we met with past Baldrige Award winners and others to discuss how we might strengthen the corporate governance aspects of the criteria even more.

I have great confidence that faith will be restored in our nation's businesses and in our economic system. The system has not failed. A few have failed the system.

I also have great confidence in the work that NIST, CII, and countless other organizations are doing to make buildings, industrial plants, the physical infrastructure, the American people, and first responders, safer in the event of future disasters.

I've talked about a number of different challenges our nation is facing - including safeguarding our homeland, revitalizing a struggling economy and improving our global competitiveness through leading-edge technology, and ensuring that organizations have strong, ethical leaders.I am firmly convinced that organizations like CII, FIATECH, and TISP are crucial to our ultimate success. But, we will succeed only if each and every one of you gets directly involved in these efforts. I would like to leave you with this one final message: While America's strength is our passion for individualism and freedom; America's greatness is our ability to work together to overcome all obstacles.

In fact, I have invited the leaders of CII and FIATECH to meet with me; Phil Bond, the Commerce Department's Under Secretary for Technology; and others at the Department to explore how we can meet these great challenges to help create a safer nation with a secure economic future for all Americans.

Thank you.