PBS To Air WTC Special "Why the Towers Fell"

Firehouse.com News

On Tuesday, April 30 firefighters may want to tune in to PBS to see "the most definitive explanation yet seen by the American public" of how and why the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, shocking most of the nation.

The program "Why the Towers Fell" is produced by NOVA, the most watched science TV series in the world and the most watched documentary series on PBS.

While the show follows a team of forensic engineers through their investigation of the Twin Towers' collapse, it also touches on personal examples of how the process allowed some people to survive under miraculous circumstances, while sealing the fate of so many others.

The companion web site to "Why the Towers Fell" gives viewers a taste of what the program is all about. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/wtc/

In an interview with Dr. Thomas Eagar, a professor of engineering at MIT and a National Research Council committee member on homeland security, the engineer also talks about what we can do prevent such tragedies in the future. His main recommendation is to improve communication on all levels.

"If you look at the World Trade Center disaster, it would have been greatly minimized if the safety personnel had been aware of the danger they were in," Eagan says.

"They didn't realize it was going to collapse. As I said earlier, there are only a few engineers in the country who had ever designed skyscrapers like this who would have realized, but they couldn't communicate within that first hour with the people at ground zero. Nobody could call to New York City at that time."

And although future buildings could be designed to withstand such attacks, Eagar says this is not a realistic goal. The structures would be bunkers and the building costs would be astronomical.

"If we were to harden everything against a terrorist attack, we'd push ourselves back into the first half of the 19th century in terms of living style," Eagar says.

Firefighters may be especially interested to learn how several of the FDNY firefighters survived inside Tower One after the collapse. They were in a third or fourth floor stairwell, and after the collapse they looked up to see the sky above their heads. Eagar explains how their part of the stairwell survived the force of the falling 500,000-ton building and protected the firefighters inside.

The program also features an interview with Brian Clark, who worked on the 84th floor of 2 World Trade Center and was one of only four people to escape either tower from above the points of impact. He also happened to be a designated "fire marshal" for his floor.

Clark recounts his entire odyssey that day in vivid detail, starting with the first impact and the confusion that followed.

"Being one of the fire marshals, I was equipped with a whistle and flashlight in my office. I jumped up, grabbed them, put the whistle around my neck, and more or less yelled, 'Get out! Everybody get out!,'" Clark says.

"This all took me five seconds. When I looked behind me out the window, the flames were all gone, and thousands of papers were just fluttering in the air, the edges of which were all on fire..."

NOVA producer Larry Klein, who watched the investigators scour the debris for clues about the collapse, marveled at how they made sense of the twisted wreckage.

In a written statement he said, "Like good crime detectives, these engineers came to the scene knowing what to look for, and over the next several months they found all the evidence they needed."

"The NOVA program I helped produce will be the first official public presentation of the results of this unprecedented investigation."

The investigation by the American Society of Civil Engineers was commissioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the fully written report, called a Building Performance Study, will be released May 1.