`Explosion Modeling - A Blast from the Future,` published in Industrial Fire World, November

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Courtesy of Trinity Consultants

Industrial facilities run like well oiled machines, keeping the pulse of the nation's economy moving at a steady clip. But on-site explosions slow this pulse, threatening workers'safety and jeopardizing production. Industry leaders know all too well the devastating effects that explosions can have on a facility. In its 1999 Process Safety Performance Measurement report, the American Petroleum Institute (API) noted that respondents reported nearly 100 industrial incidents that resulted in significant injuries and even fatalities.

While many of these explosions may not be preventable, environmental staff can predict their effects, enabling appropriate emergency response planning. Explosion modeling software allows facilities to input potential explosion scenarios based on the types of materials they use and store as well as the structural components of the building itself. The software models structural damage as well as potential injury to workers within the facility. Facilities can benefit from explosion modeling in many different situations, including before constructing a new facility, when planning renovations to a facility, when changing the amount of a certain chemical stored on site, and before switching fuels. Equipped with this predicative tool, industrial personnel can help ensure the safety of their employees and the soundness of the structures in which they work.

This article will briefly discuss the potential for industrial explosions. It will outline the steps in using modeling software to predict the human and structural effects of explosions at a facility. Finally, the article will explain how to use this information to ensure workers' safety and minimize facility damage resulting from explosions.

Susceptibility To Explosions

Virtually any facility that handles, stores, or processes flammable gases, liquids, or solids has an explosion risk. Explosions can be produced either by explosives such as TNT or dynamite or by vapor clouds. All structures are classified as either overpressure or dynamic pressure sensitive, and the blast wave resulting from an explosion will damage objects based on the object's vulnerability to either type of pressure. Overpressure is the increase in pressure that results from the explosion, while dynamic pressure is the drag produced by the velocity of the gas behind the blast wave. In addition, some structures may be vulnerable to the impulse of an explosion. Impulse is the integral of pressure with respect to time, or more simply, pressure * time. Dynamic pressure sensitive structures are more often vulnerable to impulse than are overpressure sensitive structures. Materials such as concrete are more susceptible to overpressure, and structures like towers, telephone poles, and bridges are affected more by dynamic pressure.

Understanding the vulnerability of a facility's structures is critical to predicting its ability to withstand a blast. Explosion models use pressure/impulse (P-I) characteristics to predict a material's ability to withstand conventional or vapor blasts. For example, Trinity Consultants' BREEZE VASDIP software uses P-I diagrams to generate vulnerability parameters, which allows users to specify detailed properties of 24 different basic structural components and 19 human body parts.

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