Building Defensively

Worldwide terrorism activity forces one local construction company to rethink its projects

January, 2003

In terrorism’s chaotic wake, a fairly low-key structural engineering specialty is getting the spotlight. Anti-terrorism and force protection, familiarly referred to as ATFP, is being studied carefully and applied creatively in vulnerable structures old and new.

Unfortunately, it’s an industry that can only get bigger.

Engineering, architecture and consulting firms are moving into position to take advantage of the new market. In New York City, an engineering company with transportation expertise, has joined forces with a firm known for its blast-forensics work. In California, a company formed by three former FBI counter-terrorism agents and an LAPD bomb-squad veteran performs an infrastructure threat assessment for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

After the terrorism attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Corps of Engineers received $139 million in emergency funds to protect key federal facilities. Six months later, Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command, talked to the Senate Armed Services Committee about emerging needs of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM).

The command’s projects included installation of explosive vapor detectors on the Marine base in Okinawa and blast mitigation windows on buildings at Yongsan U.S. military base in South Korea. “However,” Blair stated in his report, “USPACOM still has over 1,070 unfunded ATFP projects totaling nearly $1.5 billion to achieve full compliance with current standards.”

Closer to home, the American Institute of Architect’s Hawaii’s Designer/Builder Symposium last November included a module on anti-terrorism and force protection. Discussion topics revolved around the latest design strategies for new and retrofit ATFP construction, including progressive collapse criteria and the levels of protection needed based on standoff distances between explosives and structures.

One of Gov. Linda Lingle’s first tasks will be the study of Homeland Security issues in Hawaii, particularly for Hawaii’s state’s ports and harbors. On Kauai, the Pacific Missile Range Facility has a $23 million budget, which includes ATFP protection of facilities for Theater High Altitude Area Defense, the most advanced ground-based anti-missile weapon in the nation. On Oahu, Honolulu firm Baldridge and Associates Structural Engineering (BASE) is working on several projects that require ATFP technology. These include three Bachelor Enlisted Quarters for $65 million at Pearl Harbor and the 320,000-square-foot high-tech Pacific Command Headquarters at Camp Smith. Alternate structural systems helped save more than $2 million.

Steven Baldridge, chief executive officer for BASE, says the ATFP engineering can add 5 percent to 50 percent to a construction budget, depending on the level of security needed.

The $1.3 million engineering firm first began working on projects requiring force protection about five years ago.

Because of federal cost constraints, engineering contractors are encouraged to experiment with commercial off-the-shelf materials (tidily called COTS by the military). For example, lava lining used on the beds of pickup trucks is being used to retrofit concrete-block walls. “It’s inexpensive, easy to apply, and it helps hold things together if there’s a blast,” Baldridge says.

His firm has submitted a proposal to Washington’s Quantico Marine Base to perform testing on four different force-resistant wall types; one of the panels will use a material being developed by the University of Hawaii’s College of Engineering. “Some people feel that in Hawaii, we’re safer than at other places in the world,” Baldridge says. “The people in Bali probably felt they didn’t have anything to worry about. Don’t put your head in the sand and think, ‘Nothing’s going to happen here.’ Some of the terrorism is coming from Indonesia and the Philippines. People can blend in easier here than they might somewhere else.”

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Caroline Wright