damaged bridge (Eder/Shutterstock.com)

Sensors monitor bridges for storm resilience

As severe storms batter and weaken coastal bridges, University of Florida civil engineering professor Jennifer Bridge and her students are investigating how best to provide early warning to communities when a bridge is in danger of failing and could interfere with evacuation and emergency response efforts.

Previous studies have relied on tests in wave laboratories, rather than data directly from bridges in actual storms. Now, with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers are using a rapidly deployable, bridge-located observation sensor network to capture data on water levels, water pressure and the impact forces on bridge piers from pounding waves and transmit it back to the lab in real time over a wireless network.

Their analysis of hurricane load and response data will enhance coastal bridge health management decisions as well as design and reliability models.  A full-scale prototype of this system deployed on a bridge with interactive system gives students the opportunity to interact with an in-service bridge and visualize the impacts of bridge management decisions and contribute to design of more reliable bridges in the future.

For now, the researchers are focusing on concrete bridges in Florida’s low-lying coastal areas, like the ones that failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Eventually, they plan to deploy their system at short notice on bridges that are in the path of approaching storms.


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