Skip to Navigation Skip to Page Content

College of Engineering researchers aim to deter bridge terrorism

Government officials have long acknowledged America’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks on the national transportation system.

Backed by federal funding, Mizzou Engineering researchers are coming up with ways to protect against such attacks. Sam Kiger, an MU civil and environmental engineering professor who has focused throughout his career on designing structures to withstand explosions, is leading a multi-campus effort to develop strategies to shield bridges from the effects of an explosion.

“To control costs, our research will focus on using concrete and steel, materials that bridge engineers are familiar with,” Kiger said. “We’re trying to figure out the most practical way to do this.”

Kiger’s research group has received $85,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop defensive designs and concepts that can be applied to existing bridges and incorporated into new construction. Kiger and civil engineering Associate Professor Hani Salim are collaborating with the University of Missouri-Rolla on the project.

At the heart of the research group’s proposed defensive measures are plans for a protective wall that would shelter a bridge’s crucial areas, such as its towers. The research group is working to find the right combination of strength and flexibility so that debris from the wall itself would not damage the bridge it was designed to protect if an explosion occurred, Kiger said.

“A blast would destroy the protective wall,” Salim said. “But the bridge will be safe, because the wall will block most of the blast’s shock waves.”

New methods also are being devised to strengthen bridges so they could withstand whatever explosive forces a protective wall would transmit during a blast. MU researchers later this month will continue a series of tests they have been conducting with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and Federal Highway Administration researchers on a proposed buttressing technique.

Ideally, all the protective measures being developed will be easy to add to existing bridges—and just as easy to remove, if warranted, Kiger said. The results of MU’s research will be available to transportation officials across the country.

“The concepts we develop will be incorporated into federal training materials for state departments of transportation, bridge inspectors and engineers,” Kiger said.