Rapid City Planner: An explosion assessment tool for Canadian Cities

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November 3, 2016

On November 13th, 2015, almost simultaneous explosives were detonated by suicide bombers in various metropolitan zones in Paris. The aftermath saw hundreds of casualties. A few months later, three more coordinated explosions took place, this time in Belgium, at the Brussels airport and central metro station. These tragic incidents showcase that densely populated areas, which are often home to symbolic and dominant infrastructure, are potential targets for terrorists.

“Conventional terrorist weapons, such as bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), remain preferred weapons of destruction. They allow offenders to strike from a safe distance with devastating impact”, says Marc Roy, Explosives Portfolio Manager, Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS).

First responders and the scientific community, particularly explosives technicians, must have the appropriate tools to study and analyze these incidents by measuring and accurately predicting the effects of explosive blasts. Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) led an important project, which addressed this challenge by developing the Rapid City Planner – a fast, accurate, and portable explosive assessment tool that helps determine the potential impact of a blast, should an explosion occur in an urban setting.

“In addition to preventing such malicious acts, preparing for them is a priority for ensuring public safety in Canadian cities, and for protecting critical national infrastructure,” says Dr. Fan Zhang, Head of Advanced Energetics Group, DRDC’s Suffield Research Centre, and lead for the Rapid City Planner project.


“The Rapid City Planner tool for explosive threat assessment will have a lasting impact on the prediction of extreme explosion events, incident responder training, crisis management, and post-blast forensics; physical protection of people and critical infrastructure; transportation routing, tunnels, bridges; threat assessment of airports and embassies; and efficient risk communication,” - Arnaud Bignet.

Enhancing explosives modeling capabilities

“Current urban explosion risk assessment, preparedness, and incident response need improved modeling capabilities. This project fills this gap using modern multidisciplinary technologies to provide a quick and accurate tool for explosive threat classification, scenario-based risk assessment, and consequence prediction”, says Arnaud Bignet, Explosives Training Instructor, Canadian Police College Explosives Training Unit, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The tool, developed in partnership with the RCMP, is a significant upgrade for physical security and protection of urban Canadian city centres.

Fundamentally, the Rapid City Planner tool combines the use of common internet-based mapping interfaces (such as Google Maps) and three-dimensional city/street views (such as Google Earth), along with Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.

“Historical technologies were very time consuming, requiring expert users, large computing facilities, and often several weeks of turnaround time for a real city blast event calculation,” asserts Dr. Zhang.  At the heart of Rapid City Planner is a mathematical calculation of the detonation, explosion and shock wave physics using engineering methods called Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). This allows for significantly faster calculations compared to previous technologies.”

 “The Rapid City Planner tool for explosive threat assessment will have a lasting impact on the prediction of extreme explosion events, incident responder training, crisis management, and post-blast forensics; physical protection of people and critical infrastructure; transportation routing, tunnels, bridges; threat assessment of airports and embassies; and efficient risk communication,” says Bignet. 

A two-phased approach

The project was divided into two phases: a technology acceleration phase followed by a product development phase. 

The first phase involved making the “computational time” – the time it takes for the system to process information and deliver results – a hundred times faster through the application of modern numerical techniques and computer technologies such as gaming-based Graphical Processing Units (GPU).

The product development phase focused on making the Rapid City Planner tool easy to use and deployable. This second part of the project brought together actual end-users from municipal bomb squads across Canada, RCMP explosive disposal units, and Canadian Armed Forces explosive ordnance disposal technicians. 

The project, which was completed in September 2015, puts the power of fast and accurate explosion assessment – not otherwise available – in the hands of incident responders and security practitioners. The blast threat and event outcomes are ‘visualized’ in a virtual real-world environment for maximum impact to operators, and decision-makers.

The work was funded by the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), a federal program led by DRDC CSS, in partnership with Public Safety Canada (PS). In addition to the RCMP, project partners included PS, Martec Limited, and the University of Waterloo.

Protecting Canadian cities from explosive threats

Ultimately, the Rapid City Planner provides Canada with the capability for quick situational awareness, to understand the emerging threat environment, and to effectively anticipate, prevent, mitigate, detect, identify and analyze threats and attacks involving explosives.

Benefits already realized include the direct application to major events planning and risk assessments for protection of national infrastructure, and contributing to the development of more effective explosive regulation.

“Owing to the unparalleled realism, accuracy and speed of the tool, the Rapid City Planner will help Canadian cities better prepare for the future of combatting terrorist explosive threats,” says Dr. Zhang.

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