This giant inflatable plug could protect NYC subways from flooding

The MTA is looking into using the Resilient Tunnel Plug, a massive capsule that blows up to hold back water

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A tunnel plug could protect subway portals from flooding

A tunnel plug could protect subway portals from flooding Photograph courtesy MTA/Flickr

The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy has been cause for sober reflection on the damage the superstorm caused, but has also brought a focus on the new technology the city is using to prevent similar damage in the future. In that vein, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Sandy Reslliency tour last month included a look at the very latest in flood-prevention technology: giant, inflatable, tunnel-filling plugs.


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Don’t let the fact that they look like oversize hacky sacks deceive you; the new plugs are built with some pretty serious technical know-how. Developed by ILC Dover (the firm that made its name by designing NASA’s space suits) in 2007, the Resilient Tunnel Plugs are made out of woven, ultra-strong Vectran fabric, and can be filled with up to 35,000 gallons of air or water to form a tight seal with tunnel walls. Once inflated, they can withstand up to 17 pounds per square inch of force, and also work to keep out smoke and other hazardous gases.


The MTA’s exact plans for the plugs are still a bit hazy. In late October, the Daily News reported that transit officials weren’t planning full tests of the plugs themselves, but were looking at using the material for other uses. Last week, however, Fast Company suggested that a full-blown installation was under way at a location kept secret for “security reasons.”


Either way, we have to admit that giant tunnel plugs seem like a definite step up from the MTA’s old flood prevention system of plywood, sandbags and crossed fingers.



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