Sunday, August 8, 2010

Debunking Joseph Nobles: Other Buildings

Mr. Nobles’ latest addition to his website is a page attempting to show how other skyscraper fires are not comparable to the Twin Towers and Building 7. He focuses on the skyscraper fires featured in the AE911Truth power point. Because Mr. Nobles uses similar arguments for more than one of the listed buildings, for this post I will list an argument, state which buildings it applies to, followed by my response.

A quick note: I will be citing NIST several times in this response to refute many of Mr. Nobles’ arguments. Some may criticize me, saying things like “but if you disagree with NIST, why do you cite them?” I cite them because there are parts of their investigation that do seem to be backed up by empirical data and common sense. And this is supposed to be the official explanation for what happened to those buildings, so if anyone disagrees with NIST, they should complain to NIST and not me. I will also be pointing out several things that NIST does get wrong. But if anyone thinks they’re right, then explain why I’m wrong.

-No structural damage: East Tower, First Interstate Bank, One Meridian Plaza, Mandarin Oriental

Response: This detail can be seen as least significant, as NIST mostly blames the collapse of the Twin Towers on fire and entirely blames the collapse of WTC 7 on fire. Although it can be argued that the plane impacts greatly damaged the buildings, NIST seems to have exaggerated the amount of damage the buildings actually took. And given the fact that the initial tilts of both Towers were not in the direction of where most of the structural damage was, the loads the buildings had to take as they collapsed would not have been a major factor.

-Lower floors were not on fire: East Tower, One Meridian Plaza, One New York Plaza

Response: This argument obviously applies more to Building 7 than the Twin Towers, as the fires were on the upper floors of Towers. While there were fires on the lower floors of WTC 7, the question is if these fires were severe enough to cause collapse in the first place. More on this will be discussed below.

-Fires were fought by firefighters and/or sprinklers: East Tower, First Interstate Bank, One Meridian Plaza, One New York Plaza, Mandarin Oriental

Response: To some, the severity of the fires has been based on how much they were being fought. This, however, did not appear to be an important factor to NIST. NIST, in reference to the First Interstate Bank Building, One Meridian Plaza, One New York Plaza, and WTC 5, stated that:

“[I]n each of the other referenced buildings, the fires burned out several floors, even with available water and fire fighting activities (except for WTC 5). Thus, whether the fire fighters fought the WTC 7 fires or not is not a meaningful point of dissimilarity from the other cited fires.”

Many debunkers have suggested that the partial collapse of WTC 5 supports the theory that fire could have brought down Building 7. In fact, if anything, it does just the opposite.

Debunkers also point to the firefighters' testimony. That is addressed here and here.

-Fire was always in “one place”: East Tower, First Interstate Bank, One Meridian Plaza, One New York Plaza

Response: Again, NIST doesn’t seem to feel the floor locations of the fires were a huge point of dissimilarity to fires in other buildings, stating that:

“The differences in the fires were not meaningful for the following reasons. By the time that WTC 7 collapsed, the fires in WTC 7 had advanced well beyond the likely points of origin on multiple floors (i.e., south and west faces) and originating points of fire origin had no bearing on the fire conditions when the building collapsed (i.e., in the northeast quadrant).”

It is often claimed by debunkers that these photos show that Building 7 was almost totally engulfed with fire.

But as others have pointed out, the large amount of smoke on Building 7’s south face was most likely caused by a negative low air pressure, which caused smoke from the burning WTC complex to cling to Building 7. Multiple photographs show that the same thing happened to WTC 1.

NIST itself states that there were 10 fires in Building 7, with only 6 of them being out of control. Also, although the Mandarin Oriental did not burn as long as Building 7, the building was completely engulfed in flames, which meant it would have had an extremely low amount of thermal conductivity. Dr. Vytenis Babrauskas, an expert on fire temperatures, has written that:

“It is common to find that investigators assume that an object next to a flame of a certain temperature will also be of that same temperature. This is, of course, untrue. If a flame is exchanging heat with an object which was initially at room temperature, it will take a finite amount of time for that object to rise to a temperature which is 'close' to that of the flame. Exactly how long it will take for it to rise to a certain value is the subject for the study of heat transfer. Heat transfer is usually presented to engineering students over several semesters of university classes, so it should be clear that simple rules-of-thumb would not be expected. Here, we will merely point out that the rate at which target objects heat up is largely governed by their thermal conductivity, density, and size. Small, low-density, low-conductivity objects will heat up much faster than massive, heavy-weight ones.”

Although steel has somewhat lower heat conductivity than that of other metals, compared to non-metallic materials its conductivity is extremely high. If a fire does not consume the entire structure, the structure will conduct the heat away from the main source of the fire. This would not have applied to the Mandarin Oriental, as its entire structure was almost totally engulfed by massive flames. NIST did not even include thermal conductivity as a factor in the collapse of WTC 7.
In any case, NIST accepts that fires in other buildings were, at the very least, just as severe as the fires in WTC 7, stating in their FAQ page on Building 7 that:

“There are more similarities than differences between the uncontrolled fires that burned in WTC 7 and those that occurred in the following buildings: First Interstate Bank Building (1988), One Meridian Plaza Building (1981), One New York Plaza (1970), and WTC 5 (2001).”

And even in their report, they state that:

“NIST therefore concluded that the fires in First Interstate Bank and One Meridian Plaza were at least as severe, and probably more severe, than the fires in WTC 7.” (Page 341)

It should also be pointed out that the characteristics of the fires in other buildings were quite different than the fires in the WTC. In the other building fires listed, the fires produced extensive window breakage, exhibited large areas of emergent flames, and went on for several hours. The fires in the WTC towers did none of these things.

Ultimately, while blaming the fires in WTC 7 on the collapse, NIST claims that the significant difference between Building 7 and other building fires has more to do with the differences in design than the severity of the fires. This is discussed below.

-Different design and construction: East Tower, One Meridian Plaza, One New York Plaza, Mandarin Oriental

Response: Admittedly, these buildings were designed and built quite differently than the Twin Towers and Building 7. However, this does not necessarily mean that they were stronger buildings. In particular, the East Tower and the Mandarin Oriental had the hollowness that the 9/11 Commission deceptively attempted to attribute to the Twin Towers. One of the main differences between the Towers and Building 7 and these other buildings is that many of these buildings had a concrete structure. But again, this does not necessarily mean the buildings were better. As points out:

•Steel is a good conductor and concrete is a poor conductor of heat. Thus in a fire, a steel frame will conduct heat away from the hotspots into the larger structure. As long as the fire does not consume the larger structure, this heat conductivity will keep the temperatures of the frame well below the fire temperatures. The same is not true of steel-reinforced-concrete structures, since concrete is not a good thermal conductor, and the thermal conductivity of the rebar inside the concrete is limited by its small mass and the embedding matrix of concrete.
•Fires can cause spalling of concrete, but not of steel. This is because concrete has a small percentage of latent moisture, which is converted to steam by heat. Thus, a large fire can gradually erode a concrete structure to the point of collapse, whereas a fire can only threaten a steel-framed structure if it elevates steel temperatures to such an extent that it causes failures.

NIST discusses the differences in design of WTC 7 and other building fires. One of the most crucial differences they claimed was the fact that Building 7 had no shear studs. According to NIST, shear studs would have provided lateral restraint to the girders in WTC 7. In discussing the differences between Building 7 and three other buildings-- the First Interstate Bank, One Meridian Plaza, and the Cardington Test Building-- NIST stated that:

“Non-composite girders in WTC 7 rather than composite girders (presence or absence of shear studs) in the other three buildings.” (Page 341, August 2008)

At first, this argument seems justifiable. The three buildings listed by NIST all had shear studs and none of them collapsed. Building 7 had no shear studs and it did collapse. It sounds like a good correlation. However, in NIST’s Final Report released in November of 2008, this passage was altered. It now states:

“Non-composite girders in WTC 7 rather than composite girders (presence or absence of shear studs) in two of the other three buildings.” (Page 341, November 2008)

So, NIST now admits that one of the three listed buildings also did not have shear studs, but it did not collapse. This greatly decreases the credibility of NIST’s arguments.

But there are even more problems with NIST’s shear stud argument. In 2004-- before NIST had developed a theory around the idea of girder failures-- it stated that shear studs did connect girders to the floor slabs. In its 2004 Interim Report on WTC 7, NIST stated:

“Most of the beams and girders were made composite with the slabs through the use of shear studs. Typically, the shear studs were 0.75 inches in diameter by 5 inches long, spaced 1 ft to 2 ft on center. Studs were not indicated on the design drawings for many of the core girders.” (Interim Report on WTC 7, L-6-7)

As this passage points out, many of the core girders in WTC 7 did not have shear studs. But the critical girder NIST claims failed-- the one connecting column 44 to column 79-- was not a core girder. It was in the building’s eastern region. Therefore, according to NIST’s Interim Report, this girder would have been anchored to the floor slab with shear studs. And because NIST stated that the studs were placed from one to two feet apart, and the girder was 45 feet long, there would have been at least 22 shear studs connecting the girder to the floor. However, NIST rewrote this passage for their Final Report, now stating that:

“Most of the beams were made composite with the slabs through the use of shear studs. Typically, the shear studs were 0.75 inches in diameter by 5 inches long, spaced 2 ft on center. Studs were not indicated on the design drawings for the girders.” (NIST NCSTAR 1-9, page 15)

It appears, therefore, that NIST, having developed a theory that would seem plausible only if the girders were not connected to the floors with shear studs, simply made those studs vanish. Any significant differences in the design of WTC 7 and other fire engulfed buildings that NIST and Mr. Nobles claim would seem to exist because of NIST’s falsifying of data.

The Towers And These Buildings

Mr. Nobles makes an amazing statement.

This statement is quite rich, considering that debunkers have tried to compare the WTC to things like high schools and badly constructed toy factories. To debunkers, if it’s made of steel and collapses from fire, it’s comparable to the WTC. This is complete nonsense. Even if there were some differences in design, if we can’t compare the WTC skyscraper fires with other skyscraper fires, then what can we compare them to?

Mr. Nobles offers three arguments for why the Towers were doomed to fail (my comments in red, some links).

The fires were never fought by any means in either building. The task of simply arriving at the floors proved to be too much for first responders to accomplish before the towers had fallen. Perhaps, but given the fact that neither of the Towers burned for even two hours, it is questionable how significant this would have been.

The fires were started over several floors simultaneously. Office buildings are designed to resist a slow-moving fire in one location. Fires were started in the WTC Towers simultaneously over several floors and over immense areas of these floors. And the floors, by the way, were the size of city blocks. Pictures show these fires burning entire lengths of the building in places. While this may have been true for the North Tower, the fires in the South Tower appeared to be going out shortly before its collapse. The fires did not even spread to the other side of the South Tower.

Strong fires tend to spread.

The fires were ignited with jet fuel as an accelerant. A large portion of jet fuel was consumed in the initial fireball on impact, but hundreds of gallons were left to help feed the fires in their first few minutes. In fact, the amount of fuel that remained in the Towers would have fit into a mid size U-Haul truck. The pictures you might have seen of weak or non-existent fires in these buildings were taken in the first few moments, when the fireball had robbed the fires of much oxygen. Again, very few flames were visible in the minutes before the South Tower’s collapse. The heat energy remained, however, and as oxygen returned through the immense holes left by the airplanes, the fires found plenty of jet fuel to reignite and start the massive office fires that resulted. But unfortunately, NIST has no evidence for high temperatures in either building.

World Trade Center 7′s (Alleged) Unrecognized Design Flaw

To show that WTC 7 was also doomed to fail, Mr. Nobles refers to a series of computer simulations NIST did of WTC 7.

Of course. When all else fails, use a computer model! NIST’s assertion that the failure of column 79 would have led to the total collapse of the whole building isn’t backed up by any independent verification. NIST has never released their modeling data, so it’s not open to peer review. As I have already shown, NIST has clearly distorted the data in their report. What’s more, NIST’s data shows that column 79 collapsed and accelerated at an extremely fast rate within only a fifth of a second, even though it was still supported by more than 30 floors of restraints. This would have been virtually impossible. The only evidence we have that column 79 was an “unrecognized design flaw” comes from NIST. Does that sound credible?

Mr. Nobles believes there is no comparison between the WTC and other building fires. This is obviously ridiculous. When one looks at things in perspective, it becomes obvious that the Twin Towers and Building 7 should never have collapsed because of the fires in them.