Dr. W. Gene Corley

Speaker contends fire caused towers to collapse

Dr. W. Gene Corley spoke Tueday on the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers.

Katie O'Boyle
Associate News Editor

The twin towers of the World Trade Center did not fall because they were struck by two aircrafts.

They fell because of the fires that broke out in both towers.

Dr. W. Gene Corley was the head of a team of engineers who investigated the collapse of the towers in the period following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Tuesday night, Corley came to UD to share his findings with the campus community. His speech, entitled “World Trade Center Attack: Why the Towers Fell,” was a part of the Distinguished Speakers Series and this year’s Humanities Symposium.

With a new task set before him after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Corley worked with a team of structural engineers, fire protection engineers and firefighters. Investigators found that the two buildings could have stood indefinitely without the fires.

On the morning of the attacks, Corley was engaged in somewhat of an ironic conference call with five other engineers. They were discussing improvements in building designs to prevent damage from potential terrorist attacks. One man on the call had pulled into the Pentagon parking lot to engage in the conference. Their call was cut short with an explosion just around the corner.

A number of organizations came together to help keep people safe and collect data in the aftermath of the attack. Using pieces of scrap metal and debris, Corley and his team began to collect and analyze data to get the structural explanation for the collapse. Corley also discussed several of the misinterpretations he has encountered from people, who received much of their information from the press.

Unknown to some, a total of seven buildings were severely damaged, if not destroyed, from the attack. Specifically, a nearby 47-story building across the street from the towers was completely demolished, something Corley believes could have made headlines on its own.

“I couldn’t believe the actual damage that was caused around the Twin Towers,” freshman civil engineering student Karalyn Snider said. “Dr. Corley’s presentation really made me aware of the structural aspects of the collapse. I think a lot of his findings could help make us more prepared in the future.”

Corley’s study has included collection of data, preliminary analysis and recommendations for additional studies as well as improvements. He went into great detail about each part of the buildings that individually played a role in the collapse.

His presentation included animation of the second plane hitting the second tower, which Corley analyzed structurally in regards to his studies.

Fireproofing also became an important aspect of the investigation, as Corley emphasized how the impacts of the aircrafts alone were not enough to cause the complete collapse.

“The impact of the crafts did however dislodge much of the fire proofing on the structure,” Corley said. “And this is what brought it down quicker.”

With the main water supply cut from the sprinklers, the fire burned for an extended period of time.

Corley also focused parts of his talk on ways to improve buildings that are potential targets for terrorist attacks. Lessons learned included better fire resistance tactics, more reliable sprinkler systems and fireproofing sticking under impact.

“‘I've been asked the question, if they had enough fire protection, would they have stood?’” Corley said. “Yes they would.”

In a question and answer session, Corley was asked if he suggested any major recommendations for changes in building codes to prevent such damage in the case of future terrorist attempts. Corley feels however, that money would be better spent toward keeping aircrafts out of terrorist hands.

Along with his investigation of the World Trade Center collapse, Corley was selected in 1995 to head the team investigating the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, better known as the site of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Much of Corley’s research has changed aspects of his profession overall, highlighting the need for safer and more economical structures.

As senior vice president of Construction Technology Laboratories, Corley has been the recipient of 16 national awards and authored more than 150 technical papers and books.

Corley’s presentation is part of the Humanities Symposium, which this year has been focused on the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, a new construction in downtown Dayton.

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