February 23, 2006

ASCE Warns Corps of Engineers About Chaos

Following Hurricane Katrina, several panels of experts were appointed to review the hurricane protection system in New Orleans. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorized an an External Review Panel (ERP), composed of members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), to review the work of other experts commissioned for the review, including those of the Corps of Engineers. Dr. David Daniel, a civil engineer and President of the University of Texas at Dallas, heads the ASCE panel. The ASCE panel will review the work of the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) and report to the National Research Council (NRC). "Eminent Civil Engineers Appointed to New Orleans Hurricane Protetion System External Review Panel" (ASCE Press Release -- Nov. 22, 2005)

The ERP has released stern warnings about organizational problems with the hurricane preparedness that are not being addressed. The focus of the apponted panels has been on the physical structures such as levees and pumping systems, and not on the organizational failures that led to disasterous results during Hurricane Katrina. The Corps of Engineers has disclaimed responsibility for the organizational structures, pointing their institutional finger to the state political structure.

(read more)

Dr. Daniels has stated that the ERP chose forceful language to emphasize its concern that vital aspects of the disaster preparedness were not being addressed by the appointed panels. "We intentionally selected forceful language," he said, "to reflect the seriousness and urgency of the issues we raised."

The full interim report of the ERP provides details to support its position. In the report, the ERP stated, in part:

"No one person or organization is in charge of the New Orleans hurricane protection system. * * * The ERP sees clearly that organizational complexities and the ways in which decisions are made are among the most important factors that influenced the performance of the hurricane protection system. Organizational effectiveness has been and will continue to be questioned, with justification. It is impossible for the ERP to conceive a mechanism through which the levee system can be rebuilt and operated effectively and efficiently with such organizational discontinuity and chaos. The ERP recommends that organizational issues be assessed critically and thoroughly as soon as possible."

"It is obvious that the hurricane protection system for New Orleans failed miserably during Katrina. That the system was so clearly overwhelmed and failed so catastrophically demonstrates to the ERP that fundamental flaws were part of how the system was conceived and developed."

"One of the lessons of Katrina that is already obvious is that once the levees were overtopped, destruction was catastrophic. * * * The question is not whether the levees will again be overtopped but when and by how much they will be overtopped. The levees need to be protected from catastrophic failure resulting from overtopping."

"The ERP is convinced that there are important lessons to be learned concerning the planning and design processes. As a nation, we must understand these lessons if we are to do better in protecting New Orleans and other American cities from the next major hurricane that strikes."

The full first report, with supporting appendices, is available here: "External Review Panel Progress: Report Number 1" (Feb. 20, 2006)


Posted by dougsimpson at February 23, 2006 08:03 PM