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Hinman Pulse

September 10, 2015

Fire & Blast: Like Two Peas in a Pod

by Kevin Mueller


Photo op inside Glasgow City Chambers

I had the privilege this past week of attending and presenting Hinman’s current research on a simplified multi-hazard analysis approach for crude-oil train derailments at the 1st International Conference on Structural Safety under Fire and Blast. Approximately 80 delegates from 14 countries within North America, Asia, and Europe convened in Glasgow, Scotland for the 3 day conference to discuss recent advances and issues surrounding the behavior of structures under fire and blast loads.

As Hinman’s representative engineer at the conference, I presented a paper titled “Structural Response to Blast and Subsequent Fire from a Petrochemical Train Derailment.” This work stems from the recent increase of volatile crude oil transport in the United States and Canada. Crude oil train derailments carry the potential for large boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions (BLEVEs) and hydrocarbon pool fires that can last for days. A BLEVE is formed when the pressurized liquid contained within the tanker causes tank rupture at a temperature above its boiling point. Aside from the blast pressure released during the vessel rupture, the combustibility of the crude oil can cause a large fireball to occur. Protecting the public from crude oil train derailments is currently being hindered for many reasons:

  1. Lack of transparency between the oil producer, train operator, and local emergency response authority.
  2. Inadequate training and availability of fire suppressing foam. Large quantities of foam is required for typical pool fires and most rural communities do not have the resources to purchase and store it on their own.
  3. Availability of structural analysis methods that are inexpensive, realistic, and able to handle the fire and blast threats.

At Hinman, a world leader in protective design, numerous calculation methods were synthesized together to analyze a crude oil train derailment near a steel framed building. A single column in the building was analyzed under the expected BLEVE blast load and subsequent fire exposure from a pool fire.

For building owners near a petrochemical transport rail line, Hinman’s expertise in crude oil train derailments can help protect the structure, the structure’s inhabitants, and all valuable investments from both the blast and fire loads.

For local communities with a petrochemical transport rail line, Hinman’s expertise in crude oil train derailments can help mitigate future damage with city wide models showing the extent of damage from the inherent threats such as blast, thermal radiation, and environmental contamination. Performing these models prior to an emergency event and providing the proper training to first responders on the vulnerabilities along rail lines can help establish evacuation plans and protect the public from these threats in a timely manner.

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