ABSTRACT

The Texas Towers were a series of platforms installed off the U.S. East coast in the 1950's to support early warning radar facilities. Texas Tower No. 4 (TT4) was installed in a water depth of 185 feet in 1957. At this time, TT4 was heralded as an ‘engineering marvel’, a major innovative ocean engineering accomplishment. However, problems in the structural integrity of the platform developed after the installation. In spite of vigorous efforts trying to save the platform, TT4 failed during a storm in January 1961 with the loss of the lives of all 28 personnel that were onboard at the time. This was one of the famous incidents during the early age of Ocean Engineering. In 2000, a study was undertaken by the authors together with the American Bureau of Shipping who pooled their resources of information and insights into platform behavior and experience to revisit the failure of TT4. The objective of this study was to see if with modern ocean engineering technology (storm forces, structure capacities), the details of failure of the structure could lead to a better understanding of behavior of current platforms where there is a paucity of actual failure. This paper summarizes the results from this study and the associated study of human and organizational factors in the life-cycle of what was, at the time, an innovative deepwater structure.

INTRODUCTION

The Texas Towers were a series of platforms installed off the U.S. East coast in the 1950's to accommodate early warning radar facilities. Texas Tower 4 (TT4) was installed in a water depth of 185 feet in 1957. At this time, TT4 was heralded as an ‘engineering marvel’; a major innovative ocean engineering accomplishment. But, shortly after it was installed, unusualmotions and sounds were reported by personnel onboard the platform. Studies were commissioned to measure and analyze the dynamic motions. The second author was a graduate student at this time and assisted with the analysis of the motions of TT4 conducted by Brewer Engineering Laboratories[6].

Studies of the dynamics indicated that bracing and joints were not as effective in stabilizing the platform as had been anticipated during the design of the platform. Pinned joints and some damaged braces were identified as likely responsible for the excessive motions. Underwater inspections later confirmed these results and supplemental bracing was installed in an attempt to stabilize and strengthen the platform. In September 1960, a hurricane further damaged the platform; fracturing underwater braces and joints. In December 1960, the decision was made to evacuate TT4 for repair, but before this could be done the platform was hit by a winter storm in January 1961 and collapsed into the sea with the loss of the lives of all personnel onboard.

Subsequent to the failure, extensive underwater surveys identified many of the factors that were responsible for the failure of TT4. These were presented into a Congressional Committee hearing evidence investigating the collapse[1,2,3].

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