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A Rational Defense Against Irrational Acts: Civil Engineering Aspects of Homeland Security

John A. Blume Distinguished Lecture
Jeremy Isenberg
Thursday, April 7, 2005 - 4:15 pm
Tresidder Union, Oak Lounge

The role of technology in protecting civil infrastructure—bridges, tunnels and buildings—against terrorist attack is to support large scale, highly visible projects with economical designs and retrofits and to help infrastructure owners justify their choices to a public concerned about both its safety and a seemingly heavy tax burden.  Technology offers a means for rational defense against irrational acts.  Derived from cold war approaches to blast protection that include large scale testing, the protection of civil infrastructure has its American origins in the 1983 bombings of the US Marine barracks and US Embassy in Beirut.  The consequent development of Department of State guidelines for US foreign posts was followed by General Services Administration guidelines for domestic buildings in the aftermath of the bombing of the World Trade Center and Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1993 and 1995.  The events of September 11, 2001 convinced a sector of the nation’s infrastructure owners to consider security in their capital budgets.  In implementing these programs, infrastructure owners have begun to draw upon lessons learned earlier by the earthquake engineering community.  These include the importance of detailing; the idea of creativity within orthodox standards reached on the basis of consensus; and performance-based design criteria within a framework of formal probabilistic risk assessment.

 

Jeremy Isenberg is president and CEO of Weidlinger Associates, Inc. a civil and structural engineering and software development firm employing 300 staff in 7 offices in the US and one in Scotland. He is an authority in the area of blast effects on structures including buildings, bridges and tunnels.   Extending technology originally developed for evaluating and improving hardness of strategic military structures, he and colleagues at WAI have for more than 25 years engaged in computer modeling and field testing to learn how to strengthen structures and structural components against explosions, especially terrorist attack.  Since Sept. 11, 2001 he has participated on several panels convened by the US National Research Council seeking to improve resistance of civil infrastructure to terrorist attack.  These include the AASHTO/FHwA Blue Ribbon Panel on Bridge and Tunnel Security; and the National Research Council Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism, Panel on Infrastructure Systems.  He received a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Stanford University.