It will be days before we know the full extent of the devastation to Louisiana from Hurricane Ida as well as to the other states in the storm's path. Prompted by the eerie timing of Hurricane Ida's landfall, 16 years to the day from when Hurricane Katrina struck, I thought It was timely to pose the following questions.
Are folks aware of the report prepared by the ASCE following Katrina titled What Went Wrong and Why? The report prepared by the Hurricane Katrina External Review Panel (ERP) offers an assessment of what happened to the New Orleans hurricane protection system as a result of Hurricane Katrina-and why it happened. A finding from this report: "The lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina also have profound implications for other American communities and a sobering message for people nationwide: we must place the protection of public safety, health, and welfare at the forefront of our nations priorities."
The ERP report contains 10 calls to action (summarized below for convenience). Are the issues behind what went wrong and these suggested fixes limited to New Orleans, the USACE, or do they have more widespread implications? Can these issues happen elsewhere? For those in the know, have they been adequately addressed relative to the New Orleans hurricane protection system?
Is what happened in New Orleans an example of what Bill Hayden in his excellent essay – referenced under the Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions thread – describes as being able to see in the dark? in brief, this is about normalizing behaviors and practices that fall on the fringe, or beneath ethical norms. The journal reference for convenience is "Ethics in Engineering Practice: How Easy It Becomes to See in the Dark," Leadership Manage. Eng., 2007, 7(4): 151-157
I was living in River Ridge LA at the time Katrina. River Ridge is located between the airport and city but well outside the zone that was flooded by the failures to the hurricane and water retention systems that existed at the time. I took significant interest at the time in the multiple investigations that were conducted. While the USACE was responsible for the New Orleans Hurricane Protection System (or at least a large part of it) I think it pays for all of us to take notice of what happened and ask can it happen again somewhere else – under somebody else's watch - and how can it be prevented.
ERP Report Calls to Action Summary
Call to action Number 1: Keep safety at the forefront of public priorities. All Responsible agencies in NO and throughout the nation should re-evaluate their policies and practices to ensure that protection of public safety, health and welfare is the top priority and the infrequent but potentially devastating impacts from hurricanes and flooding.
Call to action Number 3: Quantify the Risks. The USACE should complete the work necessary to quantify and effectively communicate the risk as soon as possible, and, because risk assessment and communication is not static, should periodically update the assessment of risk. This risk assessment approach should be extended to all areas of the nation that are vulnerable to major losses from hurricanes and flooding.
Call to action Number 3: Communicate the risks to the public and decide how much risk is acceptable. Local, state, and federal agencies should create and maintain quality programs of public risk communication in New Orleans and other areas threatened by hurricanes and flooding
Call to action Number 4: Rethink the whole system, including land use in New Orleans. Local, state, and federal leaders should review the overall strategy and systems approach, integrating hurricane protection tactics, land-use considerations, and emergency response strategies into a coherent and well-thought-out system.
Call to action Number 5: Correct the deficiencies. Local, state, and federal leaders should review the overall strategy and systems approach, integrating hurricane protection tactics, land-use considerations, and emergency response strategies into a coherent and well-thought-out system.
Call to action Number 6: Put someone in charge. Local, state, and federal leaders should agree to assign to a single individual the responsibility for managing critical hurricane and flood protection systems such as the one in the New Orleans area.
Call to action Number 7: Improve interagency coordination. All agencies involved in the hurricane protection system should implement far better and more effective mechanisms for coordination and cooperation.
Call to action Number 8: Upgrade engineering design procedures. The engineering community should review and update engineering design procedures for hurricane and flood protection systems to ensure that these updated procedures take all reasonable steps to protect the public safety, health, and welfare.
Call to action Number 9: Bring in independent experts. Agencies responsible for design of hurricane and flood protection systems and other critical life-safety structures should engage independent experts in high-level review of every project.
Call to action Number 10: Place safety first. ASCE, working in partnership with the USACE and other engineering organizations, should reinforce the need to place the safety, health, and welfare of the public first, and should communicate that public safety must always be the highest priority
The short answer is: apparently not.
I am saying this – because back in April 2019 we discussed the issue on Collaborate. The discussion followed the April 11, 2019 E&E News – where the author claimed: New Orleans Levees Sinking after Massive Upgrading.
ASCE's 10 calls to improve upon and learn from the catastrophic disaster caused by the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina (published in the Civil Engineering Magazine, 77(6), 2007) appear to be a general shopping list (although I presume, the EPR report itself have some details on the scientific justification of them). Because, the calls are something appear to be not much different than what one finds in most planning and design guidelines. By the way, the 10th call appears to be a (somewhat) repetition of the 1st call.
When one considers the sociocultural beliefs and values of various groups of citizens, we obtain various responses to plans evaluating controlling matters relative to long-term flood impact on lives and economies.
There is an amazing gap between engineering something reliable long-term versus controlling land use.
While engineering is clearly part of the solutions, it is by no means the controlling decision factor.
Of course, I may be wrong.
This situation would benefit from sensible solutions, but I don't think our society is ready for sensible solutions.The National Flood Insurance Program owes its existence to the fact that flood risks are simply too difficult to underwrite without taxpayer financing. At the end of the day, someone needs to fund rebuilding after the inevitable losses. In decades and centuries past, it was presumed that area residents would pay for this, not only through insurance premiums, but also through a healthy dose of acceptance. Being willing to accept days without electric power, enduring high water with aplomb; moreover, preparing one's household with emergency supplies and having evacuation plans at the ready. In exchange, these people who I believe chose this option enjoyed a lower cost of living; property values are much lower in flood-prone areas. Persons who I believe were unwilling to put up with these inconveniences have a choice, too: do what it takes to earn a higher income, or head to a different part of the country. Sacrifice in other ways and move to a region with better protection.What is "sensible" and what makes "no sense" are both in the eye of the beholder. In the current political climate, it seems to me quite a few people are neither willing to pay for resilience nor endure hardships. Many have lived in lower income regions for years, decades perhaps, and thanks to past investments, behind-the-scenes public works investment, and a bit of luck they've come out OK. Until now. This has created a certain expectation of what is normal and what is fair.So, indeed at some point makes more sense to invest in more forced-drainage capacity, hardening electric utilities, and back-up power for sewerage lift stations, than in higher, stronger surge levees. I agree completely, as do many others who value individual responsibility and prudent spending. I hope everyone agrees that improvements are needed and all people deserve to have their situation improved, and soon.But that is easier to say from the perspective of someone willing to put up with occasional storm surge flooding. To an angst-ridden voter in a liberal city, that sounds quite sinister. So, the wealthy areas get high levees while the poor areas get back-up pumps and weaker systems? That doesn't make sense from this perspective; in fact, it's patently discriminatory. In fact, all neighborhoods should all have the same level of protection against all storm surges, the electric grid should work for all people all the time, many today would proclaim.Residents of some areas must evacuate while residents of other areas enjoy 1,000 year flood protection. Both areas arguably have sensible flood protection, considering the larger context. Who will decide who gets what? Does the actual cost of these improvements even register with today's politicians? How can someone get re-elected when they're on record as advocating lower benefits for some people and higher benefits for others?
------------------------------Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCEVancouver, BC, CanadaOriginal Message:Sent: 08-29-2021 08:44 PMFrom: Mitchell WinklerSubject: Have we learned from Hurricane Katrina?
------------------------------Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCEHouston, TX------------------------------
It's very interesting to see some candid discussions (in particular by Dr. McAnally, D McFadden, R Jacobsen) on this topic – indeed it deserves the attention, because low-lying New Orleans comes into focus each time a storm is formed in the Gulf of Mexico. And the firsthand work experiences of Mr McFadden and Mr Jacobsen are very useful for all – especially for outsiders like many of us who have professional interest.
Based on what are presented, some questions bother me:
What is the rationale behind FEMA-NFIP being the initiator of the HSDRRS project? FEMA being primarily responsible for disaster management, is interested in reductions of vulnerability, damages and risk. Therefore, they see such initiatives from this perspective. But shouldn't a barrier system be viewed like any other infrastructure? That building an infrastructure is to facilitate people and businesses to move in – to upgrade the local economy. I wonder how FEMA-NFIP interests fit to this requirement. In my Flood Barrier Systems piece I provided some glimpses of barrier systems around the world. I am not sure – but I feel strongly that planning and building of Delta Works (the Netherlands), Thames Barrier (UK) and others – were not left to the responsibility of disaster management and insurance agencies (although understandably they were involved and consulted).
As apparent in some cases, using a 100-year event based on the historic data of past few decades is considered inadequate in the present and future scenarios of warming climate with enhanced frequency and intensity of storms. There are lots of talk about it around the world. As an example, Dutch have and are upgrading their sea dyke to face a 10,000-year event. Why the most richest and powerful country in the world choose to trail behind?
------------------------------Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCEVancouver, BC, Canada------------------------------