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Federal agency to investigate Florida building collapse

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By Kristen Holmes and Kaitlan Collins, CNN

A federal agency announced Wednesday evening that it will launch an investigation into what caused the building collapse in Surfside, Florida.

The announcement of the full technical investigation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a small agency within the Commerce Department, follows an initial assessment and marks just the fifth time the agency has launched an investigation into a structural collapse since given the power to do so after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Based on the information that we have collected, we are able to recommend a full technical investigation under the National Construction Safety Team Act. We will now establish a team to begin the painstaking process of collecting and analyzing any and all information that might help us determine the technical cause of failure,” Judith Mitrani-Reiser, who is leading the institute team on site, said during an evening news conference, alongside state and local officials.

Institute Director James Olthoff said Wednesday that the inquiry will be a fact-finding, not fault-finding, technical investigation and will not interfere with any search and rescue operations.

The investigation’s ultimate goal will be to determine the technical cause of the collapse and, if indicated, to recommend changes to building codes, standards and practices or other appropriate actions to improve the structural safety of buildings. Multiple officials warn that a thorough investigation conducted by NIST could take years to complete.

A senior administration official had previously told CNN the agency had reached the decision.

The decision comes a day before President Joe Biden is set to arrive at the scene of the disaster. Seven days after the Florida condo collapse, rescuers say they are scrambling to find the more than 140 people still unaccounted for.

Biden has called for an investigation into the collapse and an administration official confirmed any investigation would be done through NIST. The agency has been providing regular updates to the White House through the Commerce Department.

A six-person team of federal officials including scientists, structural engineers and a geotechnical engineer arrived in Florida late Sunday night to assess the condo collapse and conduct a preliminary investigation of the collapsed building’s materials, history and applicable building codes at the time the condo was built, the ground surrounding the building and numerous other factors, an agency official said.

NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency that was founded in 1901, according to its website. NIST works to “promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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CNNs Chris Boyette and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.

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