DHS S&T Solution to Protect Critical Infrastructure in ‘ASTORS’ Awards

Protecting our critical infrastructure isn’t just about preventing malicious attacks, but also mitigating the damage of natural disasters as well.

If you’ve seen a hurricane, tornado, or super storm, then you know just how much damage they can do to roads, bridges, construction sites, and especially underground subways.

Think of the sheer number of ways water can enter into a subway tunnel, and it can become exhaustive.

From the entrances, stairwells, elevator shafts, vents, rail yards, and the tracks themselves, the nature of being underground puts our subway systems at an inherent risk.

(Image Credit: ILC Dover)
(Image Credit: ILC Dover)

Commuting is tough enough on a normal workday without the added hassle of a flooded tunnel on your way to or from work.

With that in mind, how do subway systems around the world deal with this natural threat?

The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has a solution in the form of a giant inflatable plug that will seal off subway tunnels and stop water from flowing throughout the subway system into stations and other subway lines.

“The tunnel plug is an innovative and groundbreaking technology that can protect subway tunnels from flooding,” said John Fortune, Program Manager in S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA).

Dubbed the Resilient Tunnel Plug (RTP), S&T, in conjunction with ILC Dover, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and West Virginia University, demonstrated the inflatable device at a recent event held in Frederica, Delaware.

(See in Action! Courtesy of The New York Times and YouTube)

The uninflated plug integrates seamlessly into a subway tunnel without impeding the flow of normal train traffic, but can be quickly inflated to stop water from rushing through the tunnel and remain inflated to withstand the incredible pressure of restrained floodwaters.

Fortune’s team understood the importance of the project, but also knew it wouldn’t be an easy task.

They were attempting to take something only seen in science fiction movies and make it reality.

“The project started with a simple proof of concept to demonstrate feasibility, said Greg Holter of PNNL.

“We then moved into the development phase to design, build, and demonstrate a plug system that would reliably meet key requirements.”

The plug needs to be stored in limited space while strong enough to withstand not just the external water pressure, but the internal pressure of the air inside the plug.

The Resilient Tunnel Plug (RTP) (Image Credit: ILC Dover)
The Resilient Tunnel Plug (RTP) (Image Credit: ILC Dover)

Holter says this is what led the project team to use a high-strength fabric construction similar to the technology used the technology used to land the Mars Rover on the harsh planet surface.

ILC Dover is home to a full-size replica subway tunnel where scientists and engineers to constantly push, poke, and prod the RTP, ensuring it’s ready for primetime.

“We tested several configurations of the plug during the program to eventually identify the design that worked best in the tunnel environment,” said David Cadogan, ILC Dover’s Director of Engineering and Product Development.

The Resilient Tunnel Plug (RTP) was developed in partnership with ILC Dover, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, West Virginia University, and DHS S&T. (Image Credit: ILC Dover)
The Resilient Tunnel Plug (RTP) was developed in partnership with ILC Dover, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, West Virginia University, and DHS S&T. (Image Credit: ILC Dover)

“The most challenging aspects of the design, aside from having it withstand all of that pressure, was getting the plug to deploy and then seal the tunnel in a completely repeatable fashion.”

“Then, finding the right design to allow it fit into a very small container mounted in the tunnel.”

Cadogan says they went through several system level tests, but they knew they were on the right path when the RTP passed its stress test by holding back water for a full 21 days.

“That was the final proof that we had met every requirement for the RTP system,” said Cadogan.

(Learn More about resiliency plans to strengthen our critical infrastructure 20 years into the future! Courtesy of DHS S&T)

While doing everything in their power to meet those requirements for the tunnel plug, the scientists and engineers also discovered other uses for the technology and developed additional tools needed to keep transit systems and citizens dry and safe during a terrorist attack or storm.

“Spinoff technologies based on the plug, include covers for subway stairwells and fabric flood walls that can be deployed in an instant during an emergency,” said Fortune.

“More than 20 stairwell covers have already been installed in lower Manhattan as part of the New York City subway system’s Super Storm Sandy recovery efforts.”

(See the Stairwell Flex-Gate® Flood Protection in NYC. Courtesy of smartvent and YouTube)

“With the RTP, we are capable of controlling the vastness of danger, damage and even inconvenience to the public due to flooding events.”

After a long journey and a lot of hard work, S&T, PNNL, and ILC Dover managed to make fantasy a reality and all it took was understanding just how important a water balloon can be.

DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) in 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Program

The 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Program, is organized to recognize the most distinguished vendors of Physical, IT, Port Security, Law Enforcement, First Responders, (Fire, EMT, Military, Support Services Vets, SBA, Medical Tech) as well as the Federal, State, County and Municipal Government Agencies – to acknowledge their outstanding efforts to ‘Keep our Nation Secure, One City at a Time.’

As an ‘ASTORS’ competitor, DHS S&T’s Resilient Tunnel Plug will be competing against the industry’s leading providers of Innovative Critical Infrastructure Protection Solutions.

American Security Today will be holding the 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Awards Presentation Luncheon at 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m, Wednesday, November 15th at ISC East, the Northeast’s largest security industry event, in the Jacob Javits Exhibition Center in New York City.

At ISC East you will have the chance to meet with technical reps from over 225 leading brands in the security industry, allowing you to find out about new products and stay ahead of the competition.

Encompassing everything from Video Surveillance and Access Control to Smart Home Technologies and Unmanned Security, you’re sure to find products and services that will benefit your company and clients.


Good luck to DHS S&T on becoming a Winner of the 2017 American Security Today’s Homeland Security Awards Program!

Click here to learn more about the Resilient Tunnel Plug. Also please visit the New DHS S&T Mobilizing Innovation website at https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/SciTechMobilizingInnovation/index.html.