Reliability-based design for debris flow barriers

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In the European Union since 2010, the design of any type of structures must comply with EN-1997 Geotechnical Design (CEN 2004) (EC7) referring to engineering projects in the rock mechanics field. However, the design of debris flow countermeasures in compliance with EC7 requirements is not feasible: EC7 uses partial safety factors for design calculations, but safety factors are not provided for phenomena such as debris flows and rock falls. Consequently, how EC7 can be applied to the design of debris flow barriers is not clear, although the basic philosophy of reliability-based design (RBD), as defined in EN1990 (CEN 2002) and applicable to geotechnical applications, may be a suitable approach. However, there is insufficient understanding of interactions between debris flows and structures to support RBD application to debris flow barrier design, as full-scale experimental data are very limited and difficult to obtain. Laboratory data are available but they are governed by scale effects that limit their usefulness for full-scale problems. The article describes an analysis, using the first-order reliability method (FORM), of two different datasets, one obtained through laboratory experiments and the other reflecting historical debris flow events in the Jiangjia Ravine (China). Statistical analysis of laboratory data enabled a definition of the statistical distributions of the parameters that primarily influence debris flow and barrier interactions. These statistical distributions were then compared to the field data to explore the links between flume experiments and full-scale problems. This paper reports a first attempt to apply RBD to debris flow countermeasures, showing how the choice of the target probability of failure influences the barrier design resistance value. An analysis of the factors governing debris flows highlights the applicability and limitations of EN1990 and EN1997 in the design of these rock engineering structures.

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We gratefully acknowledge Ailish M. J. Maher for the language polishing of the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Federico Vagnon.

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Vagnon, F., Ferrero, A.M. & Alejano, L.R. Reliability-based design for debris flow barriers. Landslides 17, 49–59 (2020).

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  • Eurocode 7 (EC7)
  • Reliability index
  • First-order reliability method (FORM)
  • Partial safety factor
  • Debris flow
  • Mitigation design