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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-10-004    Date:  May/June 2010
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-004
Issue No: Vol. 73 No. 6
Date: May/June 2010


Guest Editorials

Introducing a Series on Hazard Mitigation R&D

Photo of Jorge E. Pagán-Ortiz - Director of Office of Infrastructure Research and Development According to the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, the impacts of natural and manmade hazards in the United States cost an estimated $52 billion per year in lives lost and economic damages. Given impacts of this magnitude, research is critical to reducing risks to the Nation's infrastructure. In addition to vulnerability to natural events such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires, the surface transportation infrastructure is at risk from human-induced threats like arson, technological hazards, and terrorism.

An important role of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is to conduct research that helps improve the performance of the transportation infrastructure. FHWA's hazard mitigation research and development (R&D) program is helping lower risks to highways and bridges. Hydraulics and aerodynamics laboratories housed at FHWA's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) play a key role in testing innovative concepts and developing countermeasures and new systems for hazard mitigation.

FHWA's research has resulted in improved bridge scour equations for foundation design and countermeasures to reduce the potential impact of scour on the stability of bridge foundations during floods. After the devastating damage to bridge infrastructure caused by hurricanes along the coasts of Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, research conducted at the TFHRC hydraulics laboratory resulted in improved guidelines and procedures to address wave force impacts on bridge decks.

The aerodynamics laboratory is the only wind tunnel facility in the United States that is dedicated solely to the study of wind effects on transportation structures. Researchers in this laboratory conduct wind tunnel modeling and field monitoring of actual structures to study measures to control bridge vibrations. Concepts developed through this research have been deployed in many of the Nation's long-span bridges.

Earthquake hazards are addressed through FHWA's seismic research program, which focuses on measures to strengthen structures in high seismic risk areas. TFHRC researchers also participate in seismic reconnaissance efforts in other countries. For example, a team was deployed in April 2010 to Chile to evaluate the effects of the devastating February 27, 2010, earthquake on that country's surface transportation infrastructure. Findings from similar deployments have provided valuable information that has led to updates to seismic design codes and specifications.

For manmade hazards, TFHRC's security research program concentrates on developing innovative solutions to protect bridges against terrorist threats. The researchers are engaged in developing design aids and guidelines for use by infrastructure owners to protect vulnerable bridge components.

Communication between FHWA's researchers and stakeholders is vital. Listening to feedback from transportation stakeholders regarding their needs and what they are working on helps FHWA identify research issues of national importance. In addition to interaction with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' technical committees, FHWA researchers consult with others in the national and international arenas who are conducting relevant research.

This issue of Public Roads initiates a series of articles on FHWA's R&D focused on hazard mitigation strategies. The first article, "Taking a Key Role in Reducing Disaster Risks," provides an overview of how hazard mitigation R&D is reducing risks to the Nation's infrastructure. Subsequent articles in future issues will detail ongoing R&D related to four specific hazards: flooding and scour, wind, earthquakes, and terrorism.

Research provides the key to developing new and improved technologies to make the Nation's highways and bridges safer for years to come.

Jorge E. Pagán-Ortiz

Director, Office of Infrastructure Research and Development

Federal Highway Administration



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