Lebduska knows first-hand the limits of fireproofing.
His firm designed office space for a bank formerly on the 82nd floor of the South Tower. While working on the office, Lebduska recalls often touching the fireproofing in the ceiling, which flaked away. Builders commonly spray a fire-retardant material onto interior steel ceiling beams, but the material flakes off too easily, Lebduska says.
Observers suspect that when the planes hit the towers, the explosions blew the fireproofing off the towers' interior beams. If that hadn't happened, Lebduska says, lives might have been saved. Engineering firms thus need to develop a stronger fire retardant.
Editor's Note: Lebduska's expertise is in building structure and fire safety. On Sept. 11, he anticipated the quick collapse of the Towers. He can be reached at 973-596-5203, 973-596-3436, or directly at 908-459e-5162. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.In addition, the sprinkler system in the World Trade Towers proved ineffective since, as in most systems, the sprinklers were placed below the ceilings. When fire erupts above the ceiling, sprinklers are not set off; the lack of sprinklers placed the steel structure of the twin towers in jeopardy. Architects are now rethinking where to place sprinklers, Lebduska says.
And it's not only the owners of skyscrapers who are rethinking sprinklers. Having seen what happened to the towers on 9/11, homeowners have begun installing sprinklers systems in their houses, a practice Lebduska endorses.
"Sprinkler systems save lives," Lebduska says. "They are inexpensive to install and a homeowner gets a discount on his home insurance."
The second safety issue for architects, in the wake of Sept. 11, is how to design safer exits. Too many people died that day because of inefficient exits, Lebduska says, noting that authorities should consider revamping exit codes. The exits should be sized in proportion to the number of people in the building. Authorities now determine exits based on the number of people who work on any given floor. But what happens during an emergency, and what was illustrated on Sept. 11, is that as people exit, they accumulate floor by floor, which leads to a logjam -- one that can be fatal.
"We must get people out of skyscrapers faster during any fire," he says. "The attack on the Trade Towers showed us how long it takes to get people out of a skyscraper during an emergency."
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