How FRP Composites Help in Natural Disasters and Emergency Situations
by Tencom Ltd.
The utility sector is one of the most important industries in the world. Keeping the lights on to residential and commercial buildings is part of the fabric that holds a city together during a natural disaster or emergency situation.
With that being said, conventional wood poles simply don’t cut it anymore. While wooden poles may have been a good place to start getting electricity to everyone over 50 years ago, there are better, more reliable options available today.
Using fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites in poles, rods, and other utility components can help keep the power flowing even in the worst possible scenarios.
If you’ve ever seen the destruction from a hurricane or experienced it firsthand, then you are already aware of the damage that can be done. The average wooden utility pole stands 30 feet tall and weighs approximately 720 pounds.
However, the weight of the pole still doesn’t protect it from being snapped in half, downed, or completely uprooted during extremely high winds. That’s why pultruded products are fast replacing wood in utility projects.
Poles made from FRP composites are lightweight and durable, making them the best materials for the utility sector. Manufactured in manageable pieces, FRP composite poles can be transported quickly and at an affordable rate.
They can also be easily assembled at the job site without any fuss or backaches. Fewer workers are needed during the installation process as well, making the entire change from wood poles to FRP composite poles a more cost-efficient endeavor.
Furthermore, FRP composite utility poles will not be taken down by strong winds. A great example of their durability can be seen in the destruction of Hurricane Odile in 2014.
The Mexican Baja Peninsula was struck hard and the wooden utility poles that were in the path of destruction were all destroyed. Prior to this particular natural disaster, the local government had replaced every fifth wooden pole with an FRP composite pole. Those were the only ones left standing when the winds died down and the rain subsided.
Another example can be seen in the Grand Bahamas. From 2011 to 2015, a string of hurricanes wrecked this tropical paradise and destroyed 2,700 wooden utility poles. The 450 poles that remained standing were the FRP composite ones.
In the United States, a windstorm yanked the power from 170,000 residents in Rochester, NY in 2017. Because of this natural disaster, the New York State Public Service Commission made a deal with the local utility companies to invest $1.25 million into FRP composite poles.
There are more than just hurricanes to worry about when considering the utility sector. Tornadoes, floods, fires, earthquakes, and even insect swarms can prove to be fatal to the old fashion wood poles.
Resistant to moisture, heat, corrosion, exposure, and even insects, FRP composite poles will withstand almost anything nature throws at them. These pultruded products have a life expectancy of 60 to 80 years, which is twice as long as the life expectancy of wood.
While FRP composite poles are more expensive than wood, they make up for that price difference in the long run. Requiring little to no maintenance and doubling the life expectancy is more than enough to tip the scales in favor of pultruded products.
Another threat to the flow of power to our communities comes in the form of any emergency situation. This can be auto accidents or even a global health crisis. Some events occur unexpectedly, and we never know when our utility infrastructure will be put to the test.
FRP composite poles are impact-resistant and don’t require much (if any) upkeep. If a car crash occurs and a vehicle slams into an FRP composite pole, the chances of the pole being brought down are very small.
This makes the scene of the accident safer for first responders to provide emergency care to the victims. Downed power lines can be deadly, and the officers, firefighters, and paramedics will be able to do their job more efficiently without having to be concerned with electrical wires on the ground.
During a global pandemic like the COVID-19 outbreak, many utility companies had to send workers home to prevent them from getting sick. Since power companies are essential businesses, other workers were forced to stay at the facility to remain on-call during the pandemic.
This was to ensure that utility workers were able to repair power lines and utility poles for any given reason. If the wooden poles had already been replaced by FRP composite poles, this would not have been as much of a concern.
Poles made from pultruded products don’t need routine maintenance. Therefore, more utility workers would be able to stay safe at home during a health crisis.
Disaster-Proof Buildings and Bridges
Since FRP composites have such a high success rate in the utility sector, there’s no reason to doubt that these materials can be used to create disaster-proof buildings and bridges.
Natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes tend to follow a path. If houses and buildings in those high-risk areas are made more structurally sound by adding FRP composite supports, there would be much less damage and maintenance upkeep.
A FRP composite emergency rescue bridge design has been proposed for use during disasters. A lightweight, portable, and reusable rescue bridge would not only enable first responders to perform their duties more efficiently, but it would also allow for the transportation of goods.
For example, if a massive flood takes out a bridge that was long overdue for maintenance and repair, this FRP composite rescue bridge would be set up to provide emergency support temporarily to the community that was cut off.
The benefits of FRP composites in natural disasters and emergencies make it a preferred option for the building and construction sectors.
With over 22 years of experience in pultruded products, our experts here at Tencom are available to answer any additional questions you might have about our FRP product offerings. Get in touch with us today to learn more.