The Department of Homeland Security came up with these giant inflatable plugs as a way to stop terrorist attacks in underground tunnels, but to many New Yorkers who waited on bus lines for 2 hours today, they look like massive coulda, woulda, shouldas. It’s important to point out that the 32-by-16-foot plugs are just prototypes for now and, according to Department of Homeland Security project manager John Fortune, were not ready to be deployed at the time Hurricane Sandy hit New York City this week. Still, the plug’s developers feel that things could have been done differently to speed up the process, and everyone in New York of course, wishes they had.
If the plugs had been ready this week, they could have been placed in subway tunnels and inflated, keeping water out like enormous bathtub stoppers. Some at ILC Dover, the company that manufactures the plugs, felt that if more had been done to get the plugs to a usable stage, they could have been used to stop flooding in NYC subway tunnels this week. “We’ve proved that these plugs can hold back water,” said Dave Cadogan of ILC Dover, which also makes spacesuits and blimp bodies. “I wish we had moved a little bit faster as a team and had gotten this development done.”
Cagodan is referring to a test that was performed in January, where the Department of Homeland Security used a 16-foot diameter prototype to hold back pressurized water in a test tunnel in Morgantown, West Virginia. They are planning to run a similar test to demonstrate the plug’s reliability next week.
The existing 32″ x 16″ plugs can hold 35,000 gallons of water and developers told CNN that if they’d been placed at the end of some of the tunnels under the East River, could have prevented water from gushing into the subway system. However, they also added that the plugs wouldn’t have been able to control water coming through other sources like porous underground subway stations. And the bottom line is that while we certainly wish the Department of Homeland Security had foreseen their possible use as flood barriers, the plugs just weren’t ready yet.
But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be ready for the next time NYC faces a super storm like Sandy, because in all likelihood, it will.