UTSA Discover
UTSA Discover

2007 VOL.1, NO 1

The Road to Excellence
First Edition
Feature Stories
A Deadly Foe

Look Who's Talking—
In Two Languages

Tracking Transportation

Destroying to Protect

After the Dissertation
About Us

Destroying to Protect
UTSA professors use virtual explosives to keep cities and soldiers safe

Keith Clutter loves to blow things up.

So far he’s unleashed 17 truck bombs in various locations around San Antonio and set off dozens of explosive devices close to U.S. troops.

An associate professor in the UTSA Department of Mechanical Engineering, Clutter has a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and is an expert in blast dynamics, the modeling of combustion and explosive shock waves. He’s also a major in the Air Force Reserve and an Iraq veteran. He’s seen the effects of terrorism firsthand. That’s why he’s trying to simulate it.

Fortunately, Clutter’s explosions happen only on a computer. By attacking buildings in a virtual world, Clutter hopes to identify San Antonio’s most at-risk locations so they can be reinforced in the real world. And by studying the often unseen physical effects of up-close explosions on soldiers, he plans to give military medical personnel a better way to prioritize and treat injuries resulting from blasts.

The City
Terrorists choose their targets based on vulnerability and consequence. They select locations that are easy to reach and whose destruction will produce the greatest overall consequence, whether financial, tactical or in loss of life. Clutter chooses his targets the same way, and uses bombs that are a little more than twice the size of the one used on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

“Sometimes when I tell people about what I’m doing, they say we shouldn’t even be talking about it, that we’ll give terrorists ideas,” Clutter says. “I tell them, ‘The bad guys are certainly talking about it.’ We need to beat them to the punch to determine our softest spots and defend them.”

Clutter identifies targets based on the assessed value of the buildings themselves. He recognizes that some high-value targets, such as a city’s Emergency Operations Center or a unique medical facility, may be located in low-value buildings. But since the assessed value of most buildings is readily available on the Internet, it’s a likely way for terrorists to choose their targets. The overall concept of determining the targets’ value versus vulnerability is still sound, even if the definition of “value” varies.

Using a cross-section of downtown San Antonio containing 280 infrastructures of varying height, size and orientation and collectively valued at $1 billion, Clutter has simulated the damage a 10,000-pound truck bomb would do at 17 different locations. This geometric representation of the city is used along with computational fluid dynamic technology to pinpoint locations where the combination of property value and blast profiles maximize the damage such a bomb would produce.

Every scenario is unique, since various building materials, such as concrete and glass, respond to explosive pressures differently. Surrounding buildings’ proximity to one another, changing terrain and the size and number of vehicles in the vicinity can also reflect blasts in different directions, causing varying results.

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