Civilian Structures: Taking the Defensive

by Paul Weidlinger, (M.ASCE), Weidlinger & Associates, 333 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10001,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1994, Vol. 64, Issue 11, Pg. 48-50

Document Type: Feature article


The 1992 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York posed a challenging question to the engineering community: Can we design cost-effective structural systems for public and private office buildings that mitigate the effects of an explosions? Earlier, in the 1980s, following attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and embassies throughout the Middle East, the U.S. State Department developed structural engineering guidelines to protect government facilities from terrorist attacks. There are not comparable cost-effective solutions for protecting civilian structures. It is not practical to design conventional office buildings to be invulnerable to terrorist attacks. The protection of structures from an explosive threat was originally developed as a military technology call hardening. The methods for hardening military targets against conventional weapons and nuclear attacks are highly advanced and too costly to apply to office buildings. Likely civilian targets, however, can be designed to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack. The first, and most difficult, task for the engineer is to decide on an acceptable level of risk. The cost of seismic protection for buildings increases construction costs by 1-2% and society accepts these costs. The cost of protecting a conventional building can be, in most cases, modest when compared to the cost of seismic resistance. Early and close cooperation between members of the design team will lead to reduced risk and costs.

Subject Headings: Terrorism | Building design | Commercial buildings | Explosions | Construction costs | Structural systems | Government buildings | Risk management | Middle East | New York | United States | Lebanon | Asia

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