Hurricane Irene Affects More than Meets the Eye

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In late August, Hurricane Irene swept across the East coast of the United States, leaving extensive flooding and damage. Some states were left scrambling to assess and repair damages to infrastructure, and many roads and bridges have now been reopened. But many pavements may still be at risk of collapse, despite no obvious indicators on the surface, due to subsurface voids left by flood waters. Infrasense, Inc., now provides a solution for detecting these unseen "at-risk" conditions.

Dual antenna setup for GPR pavement surveys

Weeks have passed since tropical storm Irene swept through the Northeast, leaving in its wake a myriad of infrastructure problems, including washed out bridges and flooded roadways. State and local Departments of Transportation have alleviated many of the disruptive effects of Irene, with FEMA footing some or all of the bill thanks to its disaster-relief fund. However, many roads are still at risk despite showing no signs; disturbances beneath the surface from heavy rains and floodwaters put these roads in danger of collapse. Due to the recent flooding caused by tropical storm Irene, Infrasense is now providing a radar-based service to detect pavements damaged by the storm.

During the heavy rains of Irene, paved roads were inundated with water. When the water receded, supporting soils can be washed out forming voids beneath the road, and removing crucial structural support for the pavement. A return to normal traffic loading can mean a potential collapse of pavements with undermined subsurface support, even though there is no obvious sign of risk at the surface.

Infrasense, Inc., now provides a solution for detecting these unseen "at-risk" conditions. Using nondestructive evaluation techniques such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), Infrasense engineers can detect any inhomogeneities in the pavement base course that indicate areas of road at risk of damage. Locating these at-risk areas allows for a more accurate assessment of damage associated with Hurricane Irene, and the cost estimate for repairs may be modified to reflect subsurface pavement damages. Surveys are conducted using vehicle-based antenna systems that are operated at driving speeds, precluding lane closures and traffic backups. Vehicle-based surveys allow for a more rapid and economical investigation of a pavement network to quickly determine areas in need of repair.

Infrasense engineers have experience investigating damage inflicted on pavements from floodwaters; after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving the city submerged for weeks, Infrasense helped the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) obtain additional federal funds. Using GPR to collect pavement thickness, moisture, and material data, Infrasense was able to provide the Federal Highway Administration with proof that flooding from recent hurricanes had damaged subsurface pavements. The loss of strength for submerged asphalt and concrete pavements was determined by comparing the collected data to pavement data collected in non-submerged areas.

About Infrasense, Inc.

Since 1987, Infrasense, Inc. has applied the most current technologies to the most difficult challenges in subsurface scanning. Infrasense’s engineers are able to nondestructively extract critical information from a diverse range of structures. The firm has conducted research to advance the field of subsurface detection, while also providing valuable information to clients across the country. For more information visit

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Ken Maser
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