Protecting bridges from terrorist attacks (from UT Austin)
The Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center dramatically illustrated the catastrophic damage that terrorists can inflict on civil structures. Because of this, engineers like Williamson have worked in the decade since then to design structures and transportation systems that are more resistant to attacks.
Over the centuries, one of the most common targets for terrorists has been transportation infrastructure, like roads, bridges and trains — a reality that was most recently underscored by the 2004 and 2005 bombings in Madrid and London.
Through research funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), Williamson and Cockrell School Professor Oguzhan Bayrak turned their attention to improving the design of bridges to make them harder to attack, and more resistant to collapsing during an explosion or bomb blast.
The two researchers developed the first-ever national guidelines for building and retrofitting bridges to better withstand an attack. The guidelines are now available to engineers around the country and serve as a crucial but easy resource for designing and building safer bridges.
Williamson is also designing computer software for the Department of Homeland Security, which will allow engineers to program the schematics of their bridge design and determine how factors, like structural safety and costs, are affected when certain variables are changed in the design.
“There is lots of general information available to the public on how blasts can affect structures, but as far as specific guidance that a practicing engineer can use to improve a bridge’s resistance to an explosion or blast,” Williamson said, “this is the only thing out there.”