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Designing against Disaster

Civil and structural engineers face a challenging task when designing buildings and other infrastructure. They have to account for a multitude of safety issues related to fire, floods, and natural disasters. That challenge is twofold with the additional risk of terrorism, because blast protection could be a major concern for high-profile structures.

California's Golden Gate Bridge is in the process of being retrofitted for enhanced seismic stability. Details of the project and status reports can be found on the bridge's homepage (1). The seismic retrofit will allow the bridge to withstand earthquakes of 8.3 on the Richter scale, as opposed to its previous limit of only 7.0. A publication of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (2) outlines the risks and impacts of catastrophic earthquakes, and suggests a long term plan for research. The report considers many aspects of the subject, from risk management to community resilience after an earthquake. In a research paper from California State University (3), a terrorist blast protection system for buildings is proposed. The author combines the concept of a Blast Protective Structural Shield with an Earthquake Protective Building Buffer, and the results of the system in several configurations are discussed. A video clip demonstrating the system's effectiveness is also given. This article from the American Society of Civil Engineers (4) looks at some of the most important advancements in civil engineering. The second half of the article is especially interesting, since it examines design innovations in dams, bridges, and more. The foundation of the World Trade Center, which endured the towers' collapse remarkable well, is also highlighted. Fire is one of the most common causes of building damage, and this report (5) focuses on testing structural assemblies for fire resistance. Published in December 2002, the report surveys existing facilities that are capable of this kind of testing and outlines the need for further testing. Technologies for fire suppression systems are the topic of this paper from Canada's Institute for Research in Construction (6). It describes several different methods, but notes that there is not necessarily one optimal technique. Rather, different fire suppression methods should be used depending on the situation. This news article (7) links terrorist attacks to natural disasters. Citing a University of Colorado professor, it states that engineers and other emergency management workers have to prepare for terrorism in the same way as they have for earthquakes and hurricanes. Engineers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories are using computers to simulate the impact of terrorist bombs on critical infrastructure. This article (8) describes how the simulations model buildings and dams to determine the possibility of structural collapse.
Date Issued
Date of Scout Publication
March 14th, 2003
Date Of Record Creation
April 8th, 2003 at 11:04am
Date Of Record Release
August 16th, 2005 at 11:43am
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