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Blast Injury Research

January 19, 2009 -San Antonio TX
Blast Injury

Until the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, most human injury assessment methodologies inferred injuries based on damage to blast-loaded structures. After the Murrah bombing, the counter-terrorism community identified shortfalls in knowledge associated with understanding and predicting the effects of blast on personnel. To help address some of these shortfalls, Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA) participated in a number of blast effects research initiatives, including the Blast and Airman Injury Tests (BAIT) for the USAF Force Protection Battlelab. BAIT was a landmark study illustrating the inadequacy of existing blunt trauma injury metrics for evaluating blunt impacts in a blast environment. It also demonstrated the effectiveness of a multi-disciplinary team of engineering and medical experts to adequately respond to the need for blast injury research needs.

In more recent years, ARA has led a number of test programs further investigating the effects of a shock wave impact to the body. In a test program through the Technical Support Working Group, ARA evaluated the effectiveness of tactical ballistic gear in a blast environment. During this study, improvised explosive device (IED) blast tests were performed on vests and helmets currently worn by first responders using anthropomorphic test devices and biological test subjects. This effort provided two seminal advances in the area of blast bio-effects: it was the first study to provide scientific (histological) evidence of primary blast traumatic brain injuries in a very sub-lethal thoracic injury environment and it was the first study to experimentally identify the risk of behind armor blunt trauma caused by a blast impact to Level IV protective gear. Over the last nine months, ARA has led a multi-disciplinary, multi-organization study for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research, known as the Breacher Injury Study. This program is designed to evaluate US Marine breachers (personnel trained to use explosives to gain rapid ingress into a facility) to determine and characterize the risk of repeated low-level blasts on the brain. This is the first prospective study ever performed on human subjects to quantify blast traumatic brain injuries.

In addition to blast induced traumatic brain injuries, one of the major concerns arising out of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom is the risk of injured personnel located inside blast-loaded vehicles, usually HMMWV's. ARA has led a number of test and modeling efforts characterizing the interaction of blast with vehicles and the occupants therein. Building on that expertise, ARA is now supporting the Office of Naval Research in developing new survivability-based design requirements for future military vehicles. Other ongoing efforts at ARA include a test program to evaluate the validity of existing surrogate heads for use in tests to evaluate helmet designs, a test program to evaluate helmet padding systems, and evaluation of data acquired by the first generation of fielded helmet sensor systems. Finally, in 2009 ARA will initiate development of an alternative design for personnel armor using layers of machine augmented composite armor, polystyrene and Boron Carbide to develop a replacement to the ceramic plates currently inserted into ballistic vests. This new armor, will weigh the same or less than the current plates, but will not only provide ballistic protection, but also blast and blunt impact protection.

Through a combination of experimentation, and numerical modeling and design, ARA is providing leadership in both understanding the effects of explosions on personnel and mitigating those effects. Over the next several years, we look forward to these research initiatives paying off in lives saved among our service men and women and homeland law enforcement personnel.