Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering - (Ph.D.)


Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Advisor

M. Ala Saadeghvaziri

Second Advisor

John R. Schuring

Third Advisor

Methi Wecharatana

Fourth Advisor

Bruce G. Bukiet

Fifth Advisor

Ernest Baker


As the importance of protective engineering and multi-hazard mitigation design has grown in recent years, the development of an effective structural protection system that aids in the preservation of life safety during blast events is an important topic of research in structural engineering. This protection is especially vital for blast and explosion mitigation, where a vehicle-borne bomb or an improvised explosive device can readily cause an under-designed structure with insufficient redundancy to undergo progressive collapse due to the removal of its first-floor columns. An especially pressing research need is the consideration of structures that require blast protection, but—due to time or budget constraints, lack of available space, unusual construction techniques or other externalities—cannot be sufficiently strengthened by traditional structural hardening techniques such as those described in the FEMA counterterrorism design primers.

As an alternative, the author proposes the development of an ablative, sacrificial protective jacket, based on prior research on the use of water as hazard mitigation to protect weapon storage facilities from accidental munitions detonation. The proposed system consists of a relatively thick layer of water sandwiched between two thin layers of polyethylene film or a similar polymer membrane, with the entire assembly wrapped around or affixed to the vulnerable structural elements. The water layer is theorized to reduce the incident and reflected pressure of the blast wave through two principal modes of attenuation: the reduction of the blast wave’s energy through harnessing the high enthalpy of fusion and specific heat of water (the “thermodynamic mode”) and the transformation of the blast pressure into kinetic energy (the “kinetic mode”). The theoretical mitigation pathways are discussed and analyzed, and the necessary assumptions required for the jacket to mobilize its protective capacity within the short timescale of a blast event are shown to be valid—namely, that the initial disruption of the water layer by the blast wave forms an ultra-fine mist of 20 µm to 30 µm diameter droplets that can evaporate in approximately 1 ms.

The investigation of the ablative ability of the proposed, 1.5 in to 6.0 in protective jackets takes the form of a series of two- and three-dimensional finite element simulations which measure the protective capacity of various water jacket volumes protecting various structures from both impact and blast. For the blast loads (scaled standoffs from 5 ft/lb1/3 and 1.25 ft/lb1/3) and structural configuration chosen, the optimum energy reduction occurs when the jacket is approximately 4.5 in thick. For cases where a thinner jacket is desired, the author used the relative energy dissipation data to derive an empirical relationship between the thickness of a jacket, the blast load it is subjected to and its predicted energy dissipation capacity. This relationship can be used by design engineers to use the proposed design method, employing the integrals of P— 0 pushover curves, in order to meet important performance criteria that ensure life safety during catastrophic events.