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Who’s “commissioning” structural performance?


The now-infamous San Francisco Salesforce Transit Center’s cracked steel beam failure is provoking finger-pointing and lawsuits, but regardless of blame it’s possible that commissioning from predesign through construction by materials and structural experts may have identified the flaws and even prevented the disaster.

Three relevant programs are underway at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — Commissioning of the PERFORM Structural Testbed Project, Structural Performance for Multi-hazards Program, and Robust Structural Systems for Disproportionate Collapse Mitigation.

According to NIST, the Performance-based Engineering Research for Multi-hazards (PERFORM) project will enable large-scale research on the performance of structures under extreme winds, earthquakes, and disproportionate collapse, as well as the influence of material degradation.

The second program is conducting measurement science research to: (1) predict structural performance up to failure under extreme loading conditions: (2) assess and evaluate the ability of existing structures to withstand extreme loads; (3) design new buildings and retrofit existing buildings using cost-effective, performance-based methods; and (4) derive lessons learned from disasters and failures involving structures.

The objective of the third program is to “develop and demonstrate effective strategies for enhancing the robustness of conventional structural systems, and develop provisions for codes and standards to mitigate disproportionate collapse.” Current codes and standards have generally adopted requirements that do not ensure resistance to disproportionate collapse.

This project will develop and demonstrate effective strategies for enhancing the robustness of various structural systems, along with provisions for codes and standards to enable engineers to effectively design structures with enhanced robustness.

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