Being trapped in a tunnel can become anybody’s worst nightmare. A tunnel can be one of the most dangerous places to be caught if a fire breaks out or flood water sweeps in. So how can a commuter feel safe? Well, researchers at West Virginia University (WVU) working with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and ILC Dover came up with a solution to plug up the problem, literally.
Back in December 2007, S&T Snapshots announced this new technology (Find It and Plug It). Fast-forward a year and half to June 9 th, when an improved plug underwent water-pressurized tests in a test bed at the WVU hanger in Morgantown, yielding positive results. “The tests marked an important milestone,” says John Fortune, program manager for the Infrastructure and Geophysical Division at the Department of Homeland Security. “This is the first time in the Resilient Tunnel Project that we've done actual pressurized testing of tunnel plugs,” he explains.
The test bed was built to look at a one-quarter-scale tunnel made of pre-stressed concrete. The purpose of this experiment was to see if the tunnel plug could withstand the force of pressurized water, to measure the flow of the water seeping through the sides of the inflated plug, and to see how the plug fails if it becomes damaged or loses inflation pressure. “The results of these tests,” says Fortune, “will help guide us as we continue with future improved designs of inflatable tunnel plug devices.”