VIDEO

Strengthening buildings to withstand terrorist bomb attacks

Prof Pan Tso-Chien, executive director of the Institute of Catastrophic Management at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), pictured on Feb 7, 2014. When a building shakes or crumbles, do not follow your instincts and run to an open field. Ins
Prof Pan Tso-Chien, executive director of the Institute of Catastrophic Management at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), pictured on Feb 7, 2014. When a building shakes or crumbles, do not follow your instincts and run to an open field. Instead, head for a very small space -- the bomb shelter. This is the advice from a top expert on making buildings disaster-proof. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

When a building shakes or crumbles, do not follow your instincts and run to an open field. Instead, head for a very small space -- the bomb shelter. This is the advice from a top expert on making buildings disaster-proof.

That is why bomb shelters are built small, says Professor Pan Tso-Chien, Executive Director, Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management. The institute, set up in 2010 in the Nanyang Technological University, does risk assessments of terror and missile attacks, as well as catastrophes caused by earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons.

The protection of infrastructure has become an important part of a country's counter-terrorism strategies because buildings that are resistant to terror attacks or remain standing for a long time following an attack can help save lives.

Terrorists are also getting good at bombing one building and making it crash onto other nearby buildings, he says.

When asked what is the point of running into a bomb shelter when the entire building is falling, he says that the whole building does not come down instantly.

If the building does collapse, the fortified design and size of bomb shelters enables them to remain standing for a longer time compared to the rest of the structure.

"It is not possible to design a building that can resist every form of damage in the world.

"You want a building to be strong and at the same time, flexible. Its collapse should be gradual, yielding and cracking. You don't want a building to be brittle, one that comes crashing down swiftly,'' he adds.

Security considerations aside, the cost factor will determine how much can be done to protect buildings. "If you design a strong building and an attack takes place, you will be a hero. If the attack does not happen, people will ask "why did you spend all this money?''

mnirmala@sph.com.sg

Read the full interview with Prof Pan Tso-Chien in The Straits Times today.