After Hurricane Sandy decimated the New York City subway system last year, officials pledged to install new devices to help halt the rising tides — including flood gates and, more intriguingly, a device called a "tunnel plug".
During a "Sandy Resilience Tour" last week, the MTA unveiled a working prototype of the plug, which was installed earlier this year for testing. The strong inflatable tube deploys from a folded-up wall panel to fill every nook and cranny of the tunnel where it's installed — halting not only flood waters, but also smoke from fires, gas attacks and other perils.
The plug was designed by a company called ILC Dover, which contracts for the DoD and NASA (their logo is a tiny astronaut). In fact, the super-tough material they use to build the plugs is similar to the stuff they use to make space suits. Originally developed as part of a project for US Homeland Security, these plugs are designed to withstand 12,000kg per square metre using a super-strong pressurised plug with an internal capacity of roughly 130,000 litres, according to a PhysOrg report.
Though it's unclear whether the MTA plans to deploy the plugs in working subway stations, it seems likely that we're about to see more of them soon — the NY Daily News reports that ILC Dover is testing a similar tensile "curtain" at the 207 Street subway station in the Bronx. And they won't just be used in subway stations: similar deployments could stop passage through stairwells, hallways and other spaces.
Take a leisurely jaunt through the comments section on any story about the plugs, and you'll see a single resounding comment: that thing looks like a giant tampon. Lazy jokes aside, there's actually a connection: ILC Dover was originally part of a conglomerate International Latex Corporation — which eventually became Playtex. American engineering at work! [MTA on Flickr]