Jewish World Review June 25, 2002 / 15 Tamuz, 5762

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Coming soon: Terrorist-resilient buildings?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- (UPI) Leading earthquake and blast-engineering researchers from throughout the United States will meet Monday in New York City to examine the events of Sept. 11 to see how existing research could make average buildings more resistant to terrorist attacks.

"There has been a lot of research on how to construct buildings to lessen the impacts of earthquakes and other natural disasters," Michel Bruneau, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo, told United Press International.

"It has become more and more evident that there are similitudes to the demands of violent man-made events and natural disasters so we want to get the groups together to see what research can be transferred and what synergies can occur."

The two-day workshop, "Lessons from the World Trade Center Terrorist Attack: Management of Complex Civil Emergencies & Terrorism-Resistant Civil Engineering Design," is organized by the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research headquartered at the University at Buffalo. It is held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The ultimate goal is to harness technologies, knowledge and best practices used to prepare for various complex natural and manmade disasters and apply them in the fight against terrorism to save lives and improve emergency response.

"We are curious to see what incremental changes can be made at little cost to make the average building more resistant to terrorist attacks," Bruneau said. "We know we can't add a lot of cost to a building and that people don't want to spend time in a bunker."

According to Bruneau, there is less chance of another airline hijacking than a car bomb parked near a building or a bridge and that is very similar to what happens in an earthquake. Seismic design criteria could mitigate such a terrorist attack.

Earthquake-engineering technologies include:

-- Redundant structural systems: designed to reduce the risk of catastrophic collapse by transferring loads supported by lost or damaged columns to columns still intact.

-- Structural dampers: designed to absorb and reduce damaging vibrations in buildings and bridges.

-- Advanced materials: blast-resistant coatings for buildings, designed to shield them against blast.

"Despite the advances earthquake technologies have made in the last 30 years, building codes are determined locally, and some cities have excellent earthquake codes and some do not or don't have any -- everyone does as they see fit -- but those West of the Rocky Mountains tend to be a lot better than those in the East," Bruneau said.

"For example, we found that steel structures can take a lot of energy, but their connections are not so ductile, so in seismic design the connections are addressed -- we believe that if the federal building in Oklahoma City had been built under a seismic design code, it may not have resulted in such devastation."

Another of the workshop's organizers, Richard Little, director of the National Research Council's Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment, said lessons learned from other structural failures -- ranging from the collapse of the Oklahoma City federal building to damage done to buildings as a result of winter snow loading -- should be applied to design of terrorist-resistant buildings.

A "unified technology transfer approach" would include sharing with the private sector findings from an extensive blast-mitigation research and testing program conducted over the past four years by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the U.S. Department of Defense that includes recommendations on prevention of window shattering and the hardening of masonry walls.

Buildings, however, are not the only structures that need to be more terror-resistant, pointed out workshop organizer Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and head of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.

"Infrastructure -- transportation, water, energy, communication and waste removal -- is critical to disaster recovery, yet people tend to take infrastructure for granted until there's no water," Zimmerman said.

"The resiliency of the city's infrastructure on Sept. 11 was a matter of luck, the existence of some well-designed infrastructure created decades earlier; however, we need to build additional flexibility into our infrastructures to ensure that we have alternative systems in place when disruptions occur."

In addition, the workshop will examine how emergency response on Sept. 11 functioned and how other communities can learn from New York City's experiences.

For example, the head of the New York Fire Department said the huge influx of on-duty and off-duty city firefighters and emergency personnel "was out of control."

"On Sept. 11, we saw massive mobilization of emergency response personnel and massive movement of resources of all kinds into the city -- whether they were needed or not and whether they were requested or not," said Kathleen Tierney, professor and director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

"The World Trade Center attack posed more complex management challenges because it resembled a disaster, but was also a crime scene and a national security emergency."

Bruneau added that there is only a small window of opportunity to have improved design translated into better building codes.

"We've seen this before, it's human nature to become complacent after time following a disaster," he said. "The federal buildings and monuments will be addressed, we're trying to get the average building to become more resilient."

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