Discovering 1,001 Ways To Build A Blast-Proof Building
There are no college degrees in blast engineering. This specialty can only be learned in the “real world,” and even there, only a small handful of people have the experience to be considered experts. When RedGuard decided to start making blast-resistant buildings in 2005, we talked to everyone who knew anything about the subject, and one name quickly rose to the top of the list: Ali Sari, Ph.D., PE.
Ali investigated the 2005 Texas City, Texas, refinery disaster, and his firsthand experience gave him rare, practical knowledge that formed the foundations of blast resistant building design at RedGuard.
His input continues to shape the evolution of these products. What began as a simple retrofit on a standard shipping container has been transformed into an endless menu of size and design options.
Some things never change
One guiding principle has to hold true in every building: blast protection cannot be compromised. Beyond that, the sky is the limit. The challenge lies in maintaining safety while leaving room for customization. Cost effectiveness is the other challenge; if you can’t make a good product at a reasonable price, no one will use it.
Our solution is to build floor, wall and roof frames on adjustable jigs that allow us to change shapes and sizes without affecting structural integrity. This keeps costs and production times down — especially compared to traditional buildings, which often cost twice as much and provide inferior blast protection.
There are other cost advantages to this modular fabrication method; you don’t need welding or electrical permits to install the unit at a customer’s location, and you only have to be on site for a matter of days rather than weeks or months.
Material transportation costs are a huge factor in any kind of construction project, so we retained the ISO corner blocks used on shipping containers, even after we started building units from scratch. Like shipping containers, our buildings (and sections, in the case of larger structures) can be craned and tied down on truck beds. The blocks are also used to connect sections, which allows us to construct very large blast-proof buildings.
We add corrugated steel exterior walls to our frame because there’s no better way to dissipate the shock of a blast. Flat walls crimp, but corrugated walls wrapped around a steel stud and truss structure form a surface that bounces back like a boxer’s rib cage after he takes a punch, protecting the vulnerable contents within.
The interior walls of a blast-proof building have to be made from materials that minimize shrapnel when the outer walls bow inward during a blast event. This can be oriented strand board or something more aesthetically pleasing, if the application calls for it.
These simple components form the basic structure that keeps personnel safe and costs under control, so they can never change.
After the fundamental structure is in place, the possibilities start to take off, beginning with paint. Standard exterior coatings are polyurea (also used on truck bed liners), but you can use any kind of finish, from ultraviolet and corrosion-resistant coatings to ordinary paint, and you can do all of them in any color.
Interior options depend on what purpose a building needs to serve. Office spaces may call for custom flooring, drop ceilings, special lighting and custom cabinets. Control rooms may require raised computer floors and hard surface countertops. If there’s an interior component a customer wants, there’s usually a way to put it in a blast-resistant building without compromising safety.
The more building designs I see, the more it amazes me how many uses people find for them. We’ve built control rooms, offices, testing facilities, tool cribs, cafeterias, conference rooms, shower houses and restrooms ... even ballistic-resistant guard shacks. They can be outfitted to accommodate high dust levels, extreme heat, extreme cold, high humidity, low humidity and green energy codes.
Blast engineering and fabrication is an extremely specialized industry based on very strict engineering standards, but once you get good at the basics, the possibilities are endless.
Darren Hillman joined RedGuard in February 2009 and is president of the corporation. In his role leading the RedGuard team, he directs the day-to-day operations of the company and is involved in providing strategic direction, leading upper-level management, as well as coaching and counseling teammates. He's also a front-line leader with direct involvement with customers, regulatory bodies, community organizations, and employees.