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ILC Dover: Safeguarding Subways with a New Kind of Barrier

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New York City has more than 245 miles of subway tunnels. Much of that underground area flooded in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy blew through.

ILC Dover is working to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

While most people think of aerospace when they think of the Frederica-based company, that is only a small portion of what ILC does.

In addition to spacesuits and habitats for people to live in space, the ILC product lines include all manner of flexible protection, such as bulk packaging, personal safety and pharmaceutical manufacturing safety.

ILC is about solving complex problems for customers, says Dan Klopp, product marketing generalist. And it was a complex problem in New York that launched the company’s newest division, flood protection.

Dan Klopp

Dan Klopp

Representatives from the New York mayor’s office approached ILC soon after the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001. Concerned about possible attacks to the tunnels leading into the city, they wanted some way to stop flooding in those tunnels if they were breached.

“They asked if we could make a blimp that can inflate in a tunnel,” says Klopp. (Blimps are another part of the ILC product line, with the Goodyear blimp being the most famous.)

So ILC created the “Resilient Tunnel Plug.” But ultimately, the company realized a blimp wasn’t a great solution for the city’s problem. The blimp didn’t achieve a tight seal and the fabric wouldn’t bend enough to fill in around all the different structures inside the tunnel. Then there was the fact that inflating a giant balloon in a tunnel would probably break the tunnel.

So ILC came up with a better solution that could be used in flood mitigation throughout the country. The traditional water barrier was rigid and usually involved steel posts that had to be brought in from offsite using heavy machinery. ILC’s design is an innovative, flexible system — the Flex-Wall and Flex-Cover. It can be stored onsite, where it can drop from a ceiling, be stretched across a stairway, or be pulled across an opening in less than 10 minutes, says Klopp.

The flexible design allows floating debris to hit and bounce off the system. Plus, the Kevlar reinforcements are five to 10 times stronger than steel.

“It seems counterintuitive,” says Klopp. “It’s something you can fold.”

The system is currently installed at more than 60 subway stops and is rated to withstand water as deep as 16 feet, says Klopp. The streets of New York, on the other hand, would cave in under 10 feet of water.

“It’s incredibly high-tech, but looks low-tech,” says Klopp.

The flood-mitigation solution also hearkens back to ILC’s historic roots, Klopp points out. After all, ILC made the first inflatable life rafts that were used by the Navy during World War II.

ILC was recently acquired by New Mountain Capital. Under the new ownership, Klopp says, the company is looking forward to growing its innovative product lines even more.

—Kim Hoey

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