It would take $40 million to adequately study the performance of the collapsed twin, 110-story towers of the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings damaged by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said W. Gene Corley, in testimony March 5, in Washington, D.C., before the House Science Committee.

Corley, senior vice president of Construction Technology Laboratories Inc., Skokie, Ill., is leading a 25-person, WTC building performance study team. The team is comprised of volunteers and organized by the Structural Engineering Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, Va. It has been operating with $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The goal of the study, due out next month, is to increase knowledge of how buildings perform when subjected to "extreme forces." "Because there is no limit to the destructive forces which terrorists can bring to bear against our built infrastructure, it is impossible to design a building to withstand such an attack," said Corley in his testimony, adding that it is best for the federal government to prevent such attacks. But it is also "sound and prudent" to pursue rational, scientifically based methods to improve structural performance under extreme conditions, including "normal" fires, he said.

The $40 million would cover the expense of stockpiling the steel and other debris; examining the steel; physically testing the steel; partial parametric computer modeling of the steel, the fire, the plane and the blast; and the examination of egress issues, says Corley. From the study, tools could be developed to address fire as a structural design load and to understand the behavior of structural connections under fire conditions. Tools also could be developed to look at strategies against progressive collapse.

Another witness, Arden L. Bement Jr., director of the Commerce Dept.'s National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md., said the $40-million figure was "in the ballpark."

In his testimony, Bement described a NIST plan for a so-called National Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster. One of the program's goals would be to produce cost-effective retrofit and design measures and operational guidance for emergency responders. Another goal would be to "address critically and urgently needed improvements to national building and fire standards, codes and practices that have begun to be recognized in recent years," he said. Sept. 11 has brought these issues into sharper focus, he added.

Official announcement of the NIST program is expected this month, as soon as word is received about funding from the Office of Management and Budget.

The House panel, which is not an appropriating committee, has no real jurisdiction over the WTC disaster. But in his opening remarks at the hearing, Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said, "I wholeheartedly endorse" the call by the witnesses for the expanded federal research effort, and the financing of that follow-up effort.