Larson Institute receives grant to research anti-terrorism barriers

University Park, Pa. — Penn State's Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute has received an award of up to $7 million from the U.S. Department of State to enhance the security of U.S. embassies and other facilities overseas through research and development related to anti-ram barrier protection systems.

The research team for this interdisciplinary project, led by Zoltan Rado, head of Penn State's Crash Safety Research Laboratory, is charged with conducting fundamental and applied research related to advanced anti-ram vehicle protection systems, including the conceptualization, simulation and full-scale testing of actual systems constructed from materials local to the host countries and studying the relationships between the level of protection and the aesthetics necessary to promote a welcoming atmosphere consistent with the U.S. diplomatic mission.

It is anticipated that knowledge gained through this five-year cooperative agreement will enhance the nation's infrastructures and capabilities to protect people and facilities against acts of violence and terrorism.

Administered by the Larson Institute, the agreement will engage faculty, graduate students and researchers from the institute and several academic areas, including affiliates of the Protective Technology Center in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering and the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

The research will utilize the University's full-scale Test Track Facility, the Civil Infrastructure Testing and Evaluation Laboratory, the Learning Factory and the High Performance Computing Center.

Penn State's experience played heavily into the selection of the University for the project. Directed by Daniel Linzell, faculty associate of the institute, associate professor of civil engineering and a co-principal investigator on the project, the Protective Technology Center has a long-standing history related to studying the effects of blast and high strain rate impact on structural systems and components experimentally and computationally. This work has been completed for both government agencies and private sponsors and includes examining protective barrier and sign systems subjected to air-blasts and vehicular collisions. The PTC will assist with research that focuses on innovative and optimized anti-ram barrier designs.

The Crash Safety Research Laboratory has conducted numerous full-scale crash tests in accordance with established standards over the past 20 years and is aligned for national accreditation this year. Rado's expertise in high-speed motion analysis will assist in documenting the real-life performance of the anti-ram barrier designs that exhibit potential in the design and simulation phases of the research.

The College of Information Sciences and Technology brings its expertise in security risk management for infrastructure protection, with particular attention toward the human side of the problem to include adversary perceptions and response to the presence of security.

"Ultimately, the primary goal of security is not to protect against attacks, but to prevent them from occurring in the first place," said Will McGill, assistant professor of information sciences and technology and a project co-principal investigator. "We intend to examine how new anti-ram barrier concepts affect not only the vulnerability of facilities, but how such technology influences the adversary's decision to pursue vehicle-borne attacks.  Such understanding is essential for performing meaningful benefit-cost analyses to inform security risk management decision making."

"The vehicle dynamics portion of this project complements ongoing work at the Larson Institute and Applied Research Lab for the National Institute of Justice examining best-practices on how to safely end high-speed pursuits in consideration of vehicle stability," said Sean Brennan, faculty associate of the institute, associate professor of mechanical engineering and a project co-PI. "It also builds upon past and ongoing work with the Midwest Research Institute sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, where vehicle simulations and crash statistics are used to examine highway geometry improvements that best ensure passenger safety during highway road departures."

The project will support three graduate students per year, two in the College of Engineering and one in the College of Information Sciences and Technology. This award brings Penn State's Larson Institute fully into the research and development aspects of perimeter barriers and homeland security.

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Last Updated January 03, 2011