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GRI-20 conference: A retrospective

News | April 1, 2007 | By:

All previous GRI conferences have focused on either a single or double theme. As such, they are meant to be a tutorial on:

  1. advancing an established area in geosynthetics
  2. trying to make inroads into a new and/or emerging area

GRI-20 was of the latter type and it is clearly the more difficult. This is due to the inherent lack of speakers in an entirely new area, or hesitancy of speakers to divulge information which is not yet available or legally protected. Both of these limitations were felt to be somewhat working insofar as GRI-20 was concerned on the topic of “Use of Geosynthetics to Combat or Mitigate Acts of Terrorism and/or Natural Disasters.”

Yet, the conference did generate 19 papers—of which we were greatly appreciative—and this retrospective presents an overview of the activity. The venue was a one-day offering embedded within the Geosynthetics-2007 Conference & Trade Show in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, 2007. It was coincident with the NAGS/GMA activities in D.C. and the combined events were all arranged by IFAI.

Tom Stephens of TenCate Geosynthetics opened the conference with a paper on emergency sealing of levee breaks using short, sand-filled, geotextile tubes dumped from trucks into the breaks. Richard Reid of South Dakota State University followed by describing soil-filled blast-resistant barrier walls which is an ongoing technology used by the military. Jorge Zornberg of University of Texas at Austin presented research on fiber-reinforced soil and its resistance to blasts. Dov Leshchinsky of the University of Delaware then presented shaking-table results of reinforced modular block walls. These four papers nicely set the tone of the conference in addressing the dual themes of terrorism and natural disasters.

Joe Martin of Drexel University described research using nonwoven fabrics to intercept biological agents at potable water intakes. Elizabeth Peggs then described government efforts at illegal entry fencing locations. Rich Reid gave a second paper on the use of fabrics as camouflage. Ralph Baker followed with a usage of a net to evacuate people from building rooftops. This is a patented—and very interesting—product of the Baker Safety Equipment Co.

A series of four papers on fiber optics variations for in-situ monitoring of geosynthetics was presented after lunch. Mahmoud El-Sherif of Drexel/Photonics Labs gave the tutorial on the subject, followed by Sibel Pamukcu of Lehigh University on Brillouin Optical Time Domain Reflectrometry (BOTDR) to obtain and analyze signals. Bruce Lacina of TenCate presented the company’s patented monitoring system and gave examples of field use to measure geosynthetic strains. Lastly in this group, Grace Hsuan of Drexel University presented a number of hypothetical scenarios using fiber optics to detect intentional or accidental breaches in floating reservoir covers.

The final seven papers covered a wide range of topics, all of which were tightly connected to the conference theme. Rich Weggel of Drexel University proposed a geogrid enclosure of floating megabags to ocean transport potable water to emergency locations. Joe Mullin of Drexel proposed a new wrapping system of exposed oil and gas transmission pipelines using nonwoven fabrics infilled with shear-thickening fluids. Steve Gale of Gale-Tech Engineering described his geosynthetic-based barriers for building security against truck bombs. Sam Allen of TRI/Environmental Inc. presented research on retrofitting buildings using polyurea liners. Ian Peggs of I-Corp International described geosynthetic use in airport engineered materials arresting systems (EMAS). George Koerner of GSI gave a potpourri of emergency repair methods for damaged roadways and airports. And Craig Calabria of GeoSystems Consultants closed the conference with a futuristic look at RF Shredded Buildings and related advanced topics.

Many wonderful ideas were embedded in the 19 presentations and the conference organizers thank all involved. Special thanks to Elizabeth Peggs, Lara Costa, and Chris Kelsey of for arranging a Technology Café at lunch, with each speaker at a designated table where those interested in that paper could ask advanced questions.

The proceedings of the GRI-20 Conference are available on CD from the IFAI bookstore. Contact: and click on “GRI-20 Proceedings.”

Geosynthetic Institute, 475 Kedron Ave., Folsom, PA 19033-1208 USA; +1 610 522 8440; Fax 610 522 8441; E-mail

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