Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway AdministrationSearch FHWAFeedback
Focus
Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations
Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > September 2003 > Blue Ribbon Panel Issues Recommendations for Bridge and Tunnel Security
September 2003Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-021

Focus Home | Current Issue | Past Issues | Editorial Guidelines/Reprint | Search Focus

Blue Ribbon Panel Issues Recommendations for Bridge and Tunnel Security

In the wake of 9/11, protecting the Nation’s critical bridges and tunnels from terrorist attack has presented a new and largely unexpected challenge for highway agencies. Meeting this challenge is the subject of a new report, Recommendations for Bridge and Tunnel Security, issued by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Bridge and Tunnel Security. In cooperation with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters formed the panel last fall to provide guidance to highway agencies. As the report notes, “the highway infrastructure has vulnerabilities, which must be addressed. This is important enough to be a matter of national security policy.” The panel stressed that loss of a critical bridge or tunnel at one of the numerous “choke points” in the highway system could result in hundreds or thousands of casualties, billions of dollars worth of direct reconstruction costs, and even greater socioeconomic costs.

While the panel looked at a range of infrastructure security topics, including issues relating to management and operational practices, information security, and mobilizing and responding to threats or attacks, the report’s recommendations primarily address near- and long-term design and engineering solutions to bridge and tunnel vulnerabilities. The panel recommends collaboration by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), AASHTO, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and other transportation stakeholders to prioritize all bridges and tunnels with respect to their vulnerability to terrorist attack. This prioritization should be based on such characteristics as:

  • Potential for mass casualty based on average daily traffic and other statistics.
  • Criticality to emergency evacuation and response plans.
  • Importance to military or defense mobilization.
  • Availability of alternative routes with adequate capacity.
  • Symbolic value of structure and potential for extensive media exposure and public reaction.
  • Mixed use of structure, such as by both automobiles and rail.
  • Location at international border crossings.

Once the initial prioritization is accomplished, the report notes, security solutions should be engineered and FHWA, as the Nation’s primary Federal agency with the necessary engineering expertise, should work with TSA to, among other things, administer fund allocation to responsible agencies to meet high priority security needs. The panel also stressed that bridge and tunnel security issues should be addressed with new funding provided beyond and outside of current Federal-aid highway funding sources.

As engineering standards do not exist regarding security concerns for bridges and tunnels, the panel recommends developing appropriate research and development (R&D) initiatives. The goal of the R&D initiatives is to create empirically validated computational tools, design methodologies, and hardening technologies that engineers can use to “design for the terrorist attack.” The report notes that the initiatives “are interrelated and interdependent and should be pursued simultaneously.” These initiatives should:

  • Assess the performance of critical elements under credible loads (including load reversals).
  • Validate and calibrate computational methods and modeling with experiments to better understand structural behavior from blast loads and thermal loads.
  • Determine the residual functionality of bridge and tunnel systems and their tolerance for extreme damage.
  • Develop mitigation measures and hardening technologies.

In addition to these recommendations, the panel suggests that AASHTO work with university engineering departments to develop curriculum for educating students and bridge professionals on security issues. The panel also recommends that the Department of Homeland Security work jointly with industry and State and local governments to identify potential technologies and standards that will provide better and more cost-effective protection against terrorism.

Federal and State agencies and other highway infrastructure owners are already moving to address the panel’s overarching recommendations. FHWA, AASHTO, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have formed a technical team to work with TSA to develop countermeasure options and threat scenarios to include in a national risk assessment model. To complement this effort, AASHTO will also work with FHWA and TSA to develop an AASHTO Guide to Risk Management of Multi-Modal Transportation Infrastructure. This will be an update to the Guide published in 2002 that has already been used by many State agencies to assess their critical infrastructure.

FHWA has formed an Engineering Assessment Team for Security to provide technical advice on methods to prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from extreme events. The team will also provide training and technical support to infrastructure owners for risk assessments.

In partnership with the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, the AASHTO Task Force on Transportation Security has developed a research agenda to address security concerns for bridges and tunnels. Further, as recommended by the panel, FHWA has already taken efforts to build on the knowledge base available in the military by teaming up with the Corps of Engineers. This cooperative effort includes a multi-year Memorandum of Agreement to leverage resources for research, development, and training. Cooperative efforts with the Corps have already led to the development of workshops to train engineers to design for security.

For more information on the Blue Ribbon Panel Report, contact Steve Ernst at FHWA, 202-366-4619 (email: steve.ernst@fhwa.dot.gov). The report is available on the AASHTO Web site at security.transportation.org/brpt/brptoc.asp.

Back to Articles in this Issue

Updated: 04/07/2011

Infrastructure Home | FHWA Home | Feedback
FHWA
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration