8.7 Structural Engineering

IMPORTANT NOTE: The following criteria do NOT apply to all projects. Follow each criterion only if instructed to by your project-specific risk assessment. Many criteria are based on the recommendations of a specific building risk assessment/threat analysis. Where the criteria include a blank or offer a choice of approaches, the recommendations from risk assessment will provide information for filling in the blank or suggesting a choice of approaches.

The intent of these criteria is to reduce the potential for widespread catastrophic structural damage and the resulting injury to people. The designer should exercise good judgment when applying these criteria to ensure the integrity of the structure, and to obtain the greatest level of protection practical given the project constraints. There is no guarantee that specific structures designed in accordance with this document will achieve the desired performance. However, the application of the criteria will enhance structural performance if the design events occur.

There are three basic approaches to blast resistant design: blast loads can be reduced, primarily by increasing standoff; a facility can be strengthened; or higher levels of risk can be accepted. The best answer is often a blend of the three.

The field of protective design is the subject of intense research and testing. These criteria will be updated and revised as new information about material and structural response is made available.

Refer to Chapter 4: Structural Engineering, for additional related information.

General Requirements

Designer Qualifications. For buildings designed to meet Medium or Higher Protection Levels, a blast engineer must be included as a member of the design team. He/she should have formal training in structural dynamics, and demonstrated experience with accepted design practices for blast resistant design and with referenced technical manuals.

Design Narratives. A design narrative and copies of design calculations shall be submitted at each phase identifying the building-specific implementation of the criteria. Security requirements should be integrated into the overall building design starting with the planning phase.

Compliance. Full compliance with the risk assessment and this chapter is expected. Specific requirements should be in accordance with the findings of the facility risk assessment.

New Techniques. Alternative analysis and mitigation methods are permitted, provided that the performance level is attained. A peer group should evaluate new and untested methods.

Methods and References. All building components requiring blast resistance shall be designed using established methods and approaches for determining dynamic loads, structural detailing, and dynamic structural response. Design and analysis approaches should be consistent with those in the technical manuals (TMs) below.

The following are primary TMs (see Good Engineering Practice Guidelines, Item 18, in this section for additional references):

  • Air Force Engineering and Services Center. Protective Construction Design Manual, ESL-TR-87-57. Prepared for Engineering and Services Laboratory, Tyndall Air Force Base, FL. (1989)
  • U.S. Department of the Army. Fundamentals of Protective Design for Conventional Weapons, TM 5- 855-1.Washington, DC, Headquarters, U.S. Department of the Army. (1986)
  • U.S. Department of the Army. Security Engineering, TM 5-853 and Air Force AFMAN 32-1071, Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4.Washington, DC, Departments of the Army and Air Force. (1994)
  • U.S. Department of the Army. Structures to Resist the Effects of Accidental Explosions, Army TM 5-1300, Navy NAVFAC P-397, AFR 88-2.Washington, DC, Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. (1990)
  • U.S. Department of Energy. A Manual for the Prediction of Blast and Fragment Loading on Structures, DOE/TIC 11268.Washington, DC, Headquarters, U.S. Department of Energy. (1992)

Structural and Non-Structural Elements. To address blast, the priority for upgrades should be based on the relative importance of a structural or non-structural element, in the order defined below:

  • Primary Structural Elements - the essential parts of the building’s resistance to catastrophic blast loads and progressive collapse, including columns, girders, roof beams, and the main lateral resistance system;
  • Secondary Structural Elements - all other load bearing members, such as floor beams, slabs, etc.;
  • Primary Non-Structural Elements - elements (including their attachments) which are essential for life safety systems or elements which can cause substantial injury if failure occurs, including ceilings or heavy suspended mechanical units; and
  • Secondary Non-Structural Elements - all elements not covered in primary non-structural elements, such as partitions, furniture, and light fixtures.

Priority should be given to the critical elements that are essential to mitigating the extent of collapse. Designs for secondary structural elements should minimize injury and damage. Consideration should also be given to reducing damage and injury from primary as well as secondary non-structural elements.

Loads and Stresses. Where required, structures shall be designed to resist blast loads. The demands on the structure will be equal to the combined effects of dead, live , and blast loads. Blast loads or dynamic rebound may occur in directions opposed to typical gravity loads.

For purposes of designing against progressive collapse, loads shall be defined as dead load plus a realistic estimate of actual live load. The value of the live load may be as low as 25 percent of the code-prescribed live load.

The design should use ultimate strengths with dynamic enhancements based on strain rates. Allowable responses are generally post elastic.

Protection Levels. The entire building structure or portions of the structure will be assigned a protection level according to the facility-specific risk assessment. Protection levels for ballistics and forced entry are described in New Construction in this section. The following are definitions of damage to the structure and exterior wall systems from the bomb threat for each protection level:

  • Low and Medium/Low Level Protection - Major damage. The facility or protected space will sustain a high level of damage without progressive collapse. Casualties will occur and assets will be damaged. Building components, including structural members, will require replacement, or the building may be completely unrepairable, requiring demolition and replacement.
  • Medium Level Protection - Moderate damage, repairable. The facility or protected space will sustain a significant degree of damage, but the structure should be reusable. Some casualties may occur and assets may be damaged. Building elements other than major structural members may require replacement.
  • Higher Level Protection - Minor damage, repairable. The facility or protected space may globally sustain minor damage with some local significant damage possible. Occupants may incur some injury, and assets may receive minor damage.
U.S. Census Bureau, Bowie, MD
U.S. Census Bureau,
Bowie, MD

Good Engineering Practice Guidelines

The following are rules of thumb commonly used to mitigate the effects of blast on structures. Details and more complete guidance are available in the Technical Manuals listed in the New Techniques, Methods and References section, and in the references below. The following guidelines are not meant to be complete, but are provided to assist the designer in the initial evaluation and selection of design approaches.

For higher levels of protection from blast, cast-in-place reinforced concrete is normally the construction type of choice. Other types of construction such as properly designed and detailed steel structures are also allowed. Several material and construction types, while not disallowed by these criteria, may be undesirable and uneconomical for protection from blast.

  • To economically provide protection from blast, inelastic or post elastic design is standard. This allows the structure to absorb the energy of the explosion through plastic deformation while achieving the objective of saving lives. To design and analyze structures for blast loads, which are highly nonlinear both spatially and temporally, it is essential that proper dynamic analysis methods be used. Static analysis methods will generally result in unachievable or uneconomical designs.
  • The designer should recognize that components might act in directions for which they are not designed. This is due to the engulfment of structural members by blast, the negative phase, the upward loading of elements, and dynamic rebound of members. Making steel reinforcement (positive and negative faces) symmetric in all floor slabs, roof slabs, walls, beams and girders will address this issue. Symmetric reinforcement also increases the ultimate load capacity of the members.
  • Lap splices should fully develop the capacity of the reinforcement.
  • Lap splices and other discontinuities should be staggered.
  • Ductile detailing should be used for connections, especially primary structural member connections.
  • There should be control of deflections around certain members, such as windows, to prevent premature failure. Additional reinforcement is generally required.
  • Balanced design of all building structural components is desired. For example, for window systems, the frame and anchorage shall be designed to resist the full capacity of the weakest element of the system.
  • Special shear reinforcement including ties and stirrups is generally required to allow large post-elastic behavior. The designer should carefully balance the selection of small but heavily reinforced (i.e., congested) sections with larger sections with lower levels of reinforcement.
  • Connections for steel construction should be ductile and develop as much moment connection as practical. Connections for cladding and exterior walls to steel frames shall develop the capacity of the wall system under blast loads.
  • In general, single point failures that can cascade, producing wide spread catastrophic collapse, are to be avoided. A prime example is the use of transfer beams and girders that, if lost, may cause progressive collapse and are therefore highly discouraged.
  • Redundancy and alternative load paths are generally good in mitigating blast loads. One method of accomplishing this is to use two-way reinforcement schemes where possible.
  • In general, column spacing should be minimized so that reasonably sized members can be designed to resist the design loads and increase the redundancy of the system. A practical upper level for column spacing is generally 30 ft. for the levels of blast loads described herein.
  • In general, floor to floor heights should be minimized. Unless there is an overriding architectural requirement, a practical limit is generally less than or equal to 16 ft.
  • It is recommended that the designer use fully grouted and reinforced CMU construction in cases where CMU is selected.
  • It is essential that the designer actively coordinate structural requirements for blast with other disciplines including architectural and mechanical.
  • The use of one-way wall elements spanning from floor-to-floor is generally a preferred method to minimize blast loads imparted to columns.
  • In many cases, the ductile detailing requirements for seismic design and the alternate load paths provided by progressive collapse design assist in the protection from blast. The designer must bear in mind, however, that the design approaches are at times in conflict. These conflicts must be worked out on a case by case basis.

The following additional references are recommended:

  • Biggs, John M. Introduction to Structural Dynamics. McGraw-Hill. (1964).
  • The Institute of Structural Engineers. The Structural Engineer’s Response to Explosive Damage. SETO, Ltd., 11 Upper Belgrave Street, London SW1X8BH. (1995).
  • Mays, G.S. and Smith, P.D. Blast Effects on Buildings: Design of Buildings to Optimize Resistance to Blast Loading. Thomas Telford Publications, 1 Heron Quay, London E14 4JD. (1995).
  • National Research Council. Protecting Buildings from Bomb Damage. National Academy Press. (1995).

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Last Reviewed 2017-07-11