AUSTIN, Texas—In the aftermath of the London and Manhattan terrorist attacks, a structural engineer at The University of Texas at Austin has received $950,000 to formulate design guidelines for making bridges more resistant to terrorist attacks.
Dr. Eric Williamson won the grant from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, a government fund that supports research in acute problem areas that affect the way national highways are planned, designed, constructed, operated and maintained.
The associate professor will collaborate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and private consultants who specialize in bridge design and structural response to blast loads. The researchers will perform both physical and computer simulation tests on bridges. At remote sites, most likely military bases, the researchers will conduct blast tests by building scaled models of bridges, initiating explosions, and studying the damaged models to determine why they failed and how to design less vulnerable bridges.
Williamson said he will also use a pendulum to simulate impact and study how it damages the bridges. The pendulum can be dropped from a distance of 19 feet, and the weight is adjustable to simulate different types of impact.
His motivation for the study came from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war on terrorism. Although terrorist attacks happen relatively infrequently, he said, the impact on politics, the economy and peoples’ lives is tremendous.
Terrorists have targeted transportation facilities in the past, such as July attacks in London, and the attack on Madrid’s train system in March 2004. Better design standards for bridges could mitigate some of the damage if terrorists ever attack U.S. bridges, Williamson said.
For more information contact: Becky Rische, College of Engineering, 512-471-7272, or Dr. Eric Williamson, 512-475-6175 or 512-471-4594.