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Day 645: American Society of Civil Engineers Report on New Orleans Hurricane Protection Systems

in government, hurricane katrina, new orleans, science & technology, we are not ok

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has released the results of an eighteen-month-long study on what went wrong with the New Orleans hurricane protection system in the days following Hurricane Katrina and why.  According to Science Daily, “the 84-page report, The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why, targets the public and policymakers, and complements and synthesizes the thousands of pages released so far by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during their post-Katrina investigation.”  The report is in four pieces at the ASCE site and includes a Table of Contents, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.  (Just in case the ASCE’s document archival system is as good as most, I’ve downloaded the files for future reference.  The report may be purchased in its entirety here.) 

Perusing the hefty manuscript full of images, graphs and maps, I found nothing unreadable, shocking or unbeknownst to those of us who have been paying attention since the beginning, i.e. most New Orleanians.  However, the ASCE has compiled all of the information logically and chronologically and this report doesn’t mince words (“Pumping System: Useless During Hurricane Katrina”). Chapters 6 and 7, Consequences and Direct Causes Of The Catastrophe respectively, are interesting reads.  A portion of Chapter 6, called Had The Hurricane Protection System Not Failed, shows computer simulation results of unbroken but overtopped levees.  Much of Lakeview, Broadmoor, Carrollton, Central City and east Jefferson Parish would have remained dry, according to the model.

ASCE New Orleans Property Damage Modeling Results

“Comparing regional property damage from the hurricane protection system failure (left) to a scenario in which the levees and pumping stations had not failed (right) indicates far less property loss would have occurred. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of deaths could have been avoided.”

The report concludes that “now that the nation has invested millions of dollars in research by the world’s leading engineers and scientists, it is time to draw definitive conclusions about what went wrong and, more importantly, to apply that knowledge to make us safer … Unfortunately, people sometimes end up making policy based on headlines, not science. In our report, we offer a rational basis from which the nation can move forward.”

These words ought to be taken as a slap in the face, say when Louisiana’s latest hurricane evacuation drill was cancelled following a “misunderstanding about who had jurisdiction over a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park.”  One would think that the time-of-disaster chain of command were sorted out two whole hurricane seasons later, especially when FEMA has nothing to do besides manage those trailer parks and the object is to get folks OUT of them.  But, one would be so devastatingly wrong.  Welcome to America, America.

1 comment… add one
  • Tim

    Good catch! ASCE’s report makes some very significant observations based on science and not rumor. They trash the “hurricane highway” myth of the MRGO, and they point out what it seems nobody in New Orleans understands: during the peak of a hurricane, the pumps don’t work! The pumps throughout the area were designed to pump rainwater alone. They are rendered useless when a hurricane storm surge pushes up against the outlet pipes. This becomes vital when we consider how the interim closure gates will effect our ability to pump during a storm. Because the gates will keep the storm surge away from the outlet canal pump stations, and because the Corps’ pumps ARE designed to pump against a high head, the ability to pump rainwater out of the city I think is improved by the presence of those gates and pumps.



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