Crews work in the rubble of Champlain Towers South residential condo Tuesday in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse.

Crews work in the rubble of Champlain Towers South residential condo Tuesday in Surfside, Fla. Many people were still unaccounted for after Thursday's fatal collapse. Gerald Herbert / AP

Federal Agencies Respond to Partial Condo Collapse in Florida

President Biden would support a federal probe, if one is warranted. 

Various federal agencies are assisting in the emergency response to the tragic, partial collapse of a condo in Florida last week that has left almost a dozen killed and over 100 missing. 

Early on June 24, a 12-story condo building in Surfside, a town in Miami-Dade County, partially collapsed, killing 11 and leaving 150 unaccounted for as of Tuesday afternoon. President Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration shortly after, thus authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts. 

“We have more than 50 personnel on the ground coordinating closely with state and local officials, and providing assistance,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during a briefing on Monday afternoon. “FEMA has deployed an incident management assistance team, as well as building science experts, structural engineers, and geotechnical experts to support search-and-rescue operations, and a mobile command center.” 

Additionally, ‘The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also being mission-assigned to provide technical assistance for debris removal,” Psaki said. “And two FEMA-supported search-and-rescue teams are involved in the response to the devastating incident. And additional FEMA national urban search and rescue system teams are on alert to support personnel already on the ground.”

She noted that “FEMA is coordinating with the state to support the opening of a family assistance center, and is providing communication support to ensure information is available.”

There are also officials from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and FBI on the ground, she added. 

The Miami Herald reported on Monday about how the partial condo collapse would be NIST’s fifth formal investigation of a building failure in 20 years (the first one being the World Trade Center collapse in 2001), as it is a research-based agency that only looks into major situations.

During a press gaggle on Air Force One on Tuesday, Psaki specified NIST has “sent a team of six scientists and engineers to collect firsthand information on the [Surfside condo] towers...that will be used to determine if an investigation or study will be conducted,” which Biden would support. 

On OSHA’s response, a Labor Department spokesperson said, “We are working with local authorities to gather information to determine if the event is related to any active construction or maintenance operations on the structure.” 

The FBI Miami field office has "offered its full resources in support of the Surfside building collapse rescue operation," as it always does when there are major incidents in the area," said a spokesperson.  "We quickly deployed assets to local authorities to include sending a supervisory special agent to the incident command post, an evidence response expert to the scene, and victim specialists to assist with grieving families."

A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration, a division of the Transportation Department, said “although we currently don’t have a direct role with regard to the building collapse, we have been monitoring the situation with regard to area highways,” such as to make sure there aren’t any major highway issues that would hinder access to that area.

“We are also communicating any incidents/road closures on significant roadways (e.g. I-95) in the area to the FHWA emergency coordinators for situational awareness,” said the spokesperson. “[The Florida Department of Emergency Management] and the Florida Department of Transportation are aware of how to reach us if we can be of assistance.”

The State Department is also helping in the relief effort. 

“The department has been engaged in supporting foreign missions in their efforts to locate and assist their citizens since the partial collapse,” and “is on the ground and working closely with local, state, federal, and foreign mission personnel in a holistic government response to this tragedy,” said a State Department spokesperson. “The Miami area is special to communities from Latin America, the Caribbean, and around the world. Our hearts are with all of those affected.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted on Monday his thanks to State Department personnel “for their amazing responsiveness in obtaining expedited visas for family members of the victims in Surfside.” The department has “had staff on the ground in South Florida since Saturday which sped the process up even more.” 

Surfside had a population of 5,651 in 2019, 44.7% of which was Hispanic or Latino and 54.1% was white (non-Hispanic or Latino), according to data from the Census Bureau. About 44% of the population was foreign born, which Census defines as individuals who are either not U.S. citizens or were not a U.S. national at birth. 

The White House announced on Tuesday morning that the president and first lady will visit Surfside on Thursday. 

Update: This article has been updated with comment from the FBI Miami field office. 

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