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FEMA's Follies

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was the entity that oversaw the investigations of the World Trade Center collapses and the Pentagon crash. FEMA was given the sole authority to investigate the incidents despite the fact that it is not an investigative agency. In effect, it functioned to prevent any genuine investigation.

For both the Pentagon and WTC crime scenes FEMA selected a volunteer panel of investigators from the American Society of Civil Engineers to create reports that bolstered the government's account of the attack. In both cases FEMA controlled the scope and parameters of the investigations.

The farcical nature of the World Trade Center investigation is documented in the Congressional Record. A hearing on March 6, 2002, not long before the publication of FEMA's World Trade Center Building Performance Study attempted to explain why the investigation had been "hampered":

e x c e r p t
title: HEARING CHARTER Learning from 9/11: Understanding the Collapse of the World Trade Center
authors: Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives
The investigation has been hampered by a number of issues, including:
  • No clear authority and the absence of an effective protocol for how the building performance investigators should conduct and coordinate their investigation with the concurrent search and rescue efforts, as well as any criminal investigation: Early confusion over who was in charge of the site and the lack of authority of investigators to impound pieces of steel for examination before they were recycled led to the loss of important pieces of evidence that were destroyed early during the search and rescue effort. In addition, a delay in the deployment of FEMA’s BPAT team may have compounded the lack of access to valuable data and artifacts.
  • Difficulty obtaining documents essential to the investigation, including blueprints, design drawings, and maintenance records: The building owners, designers and insurers, prevented independent researchers from gaining access – and delayed the BPAT team in gaining access – to pertinent building documents largely because of liability concerns. The documents are necessary to validate physical and photographic evidence and to develop computer models that can explain why the buildings failed and how similar failures might be avoided in the future.
  • Uncertainty as a result of the confidential nature of the BPAT study: The confidential nature of the BPAT study may prevent the timely discovery of potential gaps in the investigation, which may never be filled if important, but ephemeral evidence, such as memories or home videotapes, are lost. The confidentiality agreement that FEMA requires its BPAT members to sign has frustrated the efforts of independent researchers to understand the collapse, who are unsure if their work is complementary to, or duplicative of, that of the BPAT team. In addition, the agreement has prevented the sharing of research results and the ordinary scientific give-and-take that otherwise allows scientists and engineers to winnow ideas and strengthen results.
  • Uncertainty as to the strategy for completing the investigation and applying the lessons learned: The BPAT team does not plan, nor does it have sufficient funding, to fully analyze the structural data it collected to determine the reasons for the collapse of the WTC buildings. (Its report is expected to rely largely on audio and video tapes of the event.) Nor does it plan to examine other important issues, such as building evacuation mechanisms. Instead, FEMA has asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to take over the investigation. Yet so far, NIST has not released a detailed plan describing how it will take over the investigation, what types of analyses it will conduct, how it will attempt to apply the lessons it learns to try to improve building and fire codes, and how much funding it will require.

In his presentation A New Standard of Deception, Kevin Rayan notes that the following restrictions were placed on the ASCE's investigation:

  • No access to blueprints
  • Not allowed to ask for help from public
  • Team members threatened with dismissal for speaking with press
  • No access to steel until fist week in October

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Members of FEMA's Building Performance Assessment Team (BPAT) measure some pieces of steel at Fresh Kills landfill