“On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck southeast Louisiana and triggered what would become one of the worst disasters ever to befall an American city. The devastation was so extensive, and the residual risk looms so ominous, that, more than a year later, the future of New Orleans remains clouded. The members of the ASCE Hurricane Katrina External Review Panel have conducted an in-depth review of the comprehensive work of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce (IPET) to better understand this tragedy and prevent similar disasters from happening again. The report, The New Orleans Hurricane Protection Systems: What Went Wrong and Why, focuses on the direct physical causes and contributing factors to the hurricane protection system failures. It was developed not to repeat the IPET information, but to interpret the broader significance of the findings. Written for both technical and general audiences, the report gleans valuable information related to the science and technology of hurricane flood protection as well as an overview of what caused the disaster. A fascinating read, “The New Orleans Hurricane Protection Systems: What Went Wrong and Why” offers hope for not just the future of New Orleans, but for all other hurricane and flood-prone areas of the country.”
Monday, March 30th, 2009 – Part I. THE THREAT OF COASTAL FLOODING
First Half – Session Chair: Michael Lorczak, P.E., AECOM, New York, NY (ASCE Met Section President)
- Introduction – Dr. Douglas Hill, P.E., Consulting Engineer, Huntington, NY
- The New Orleans Levees: The Worst Engineering Catastrophe in U.S. History – What Went Wrong and Why –Lawrence H. Roth, P.E., G.E., F.ASCE, Deputy Executive Director, American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA
- Quantifying Wind Risk: Present and Future – Dr. Kerry Emanuel and Dr. Sai Ravela, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
- Storm Surge Modeling and Climatology for the New York City Metropolitan Region – Dr. Brian A. Colle and Dr. Frank Buonaiuto, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
Second Half – Session Chair: Mike Bobker, Co-Chair, Environmental Sciences Steering Committee, NYAS
- Hydrodynamic/GIS Simulation of Storm Surge Flooding in the NY/NJ Harbor System – Nicholas Kim, Brian George and Philip Simmons, HydroQual, Inc., Mahwah, NJ
- Vulnerability and Potential Losses in NYC from Coastal Flooding – Joshua Friedman, Hazard Impact Modeler, New York City Office of Emergency Management, New York, NY
- Hydrologic Feasibility of Storm Surge Barriers – Dr. Malcolm Bowman, P.E., Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
- Review Panel: Should Barriers be Built in NYC? – Warren Kurtz, P.E., Chairman, Consulting Engineer, Armonk, NY; Joseph Seebode, Deputy District Engineer, New York District, US Army Corps of Engineers, New York City; Larry Roth, P.E., G.E., Deputy Executive Director, American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA
Tuesday, March 31st – Part II. ENGINEERING THE STORM SURGE BARRIERS
First Half – Session Chair: Dr. Rae Zimmerman, Professor, NYU-Wagner Graduate School, New York, NY
- The Delta Project: Past and Future – Dr. Jeroen Aerts and W. Botzen, IVM-VU University, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Regulatory Considerations for a Storm Barrier System – Michael Scarano, P.E., Deputy Chief, Regulatory Branch, US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, New York City
- Storm Surge Barriers: Several Ecological and Social Concerns – Dr. R.L. Swanson, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
- Geotechnical Aspects of Three Storm Surge Barrier Sites – Hugh S. Lacy, P.E., Hugh S. Lacy, P.E., Anthony DeVito, P.E., and Athena C. De Nivo, P.E., Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers, New York, NY
- A Global Overview of Navigable Storm Surge Barriers from a Dutch Perspective – Piet Dircke, Arcadis NV, Arnhem, Netherlands
Second Half – Session Chair: Dr. Douglas Hill, P.E., Consulting Engineer, Huntington, NY
- Student Designs of Storm Surge Barriers for the New York Metropolitan Area – Dr. Anne Ronan, P.E., Cooper Union, New York, NY
- Conceptual Design of an East River Storm Surge Barrier – Michael J. Abrahams, P.E., F.ASCE, Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York, NY
- Verrazano Narrows Storm Surge Barrier – Peter Jansen and Piet Dircke, Arcadis NV, Arnhem, Netherlands
- Arthur Kill Storm Surge Barrier Design Concept – Lawrence J. Murphy, P.E. and Thomas R. Schoettle, P.E., Camp Dresser & McKee, New York City
- NY-NJ Outer Harbor Gateway – Dennis V. Padron, P.E., Halcrow Inc., New York City; Graeme Forsythe, FICE, FIES, Halcrow Group, United Kingdom
- Panel Discussion – Can Barriers be Built in NYC? – Dr. F.H. “Bud” Griffis, Chairman, Department of Civil Engineering, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, Brooklyn, NY and the above speakers
Good points in the editorial. I also think that we should look at the worst cases. However, politicians, and the disaster planners who work for them, usually do not want to admit that their plans do not cover the worst cases because that would require very unpopular actions. Two examples come to mind.
In smallpox policy, we do not want to talk about mandatory immunizations or even universal immunizations because the vaccine is risky. But the worst case models show smallpox introduced at multiple points (as would be likely in a bioterrorist act) infecting and killing millions before it is controlled with incremental immunization strategies. (For more info on smallpox.)
On the Louisiana coast, the worst case is New Orleans utterly flattened by Cat 5 winds (most housing destroyed and most trees down, likely on the housing) and then completely flooded. That reality would require serious reconsideration of current rebuilding and levee projects, and would further undermine the real estate market. That makes it politically impossible to consider. Before Katrina, it had become politically impossible to admit New Orleans could flood, which was the primary reason for the late evacuation call and the opening of shelters in the city. A few more years without a bad storm and the politicians will again convince themselves that the city has been protected by the levees.
The Mississippi Delta has always been defined by the sediment flow of the river and level of the ocean. Of these two, sediment flow is less important than ocean level – ocean level has varied more than 200 feet over geologic time. With the ocean level rising, the sediment level does affect how fast the delta is inundated. With a full sediment load and no levees, ocean rise would not submerge the delta as quickly. (It is important to remember that the delta was already receding before man started building levees and dams.) But the Mississippi has been leveed along most of its length, limiting both the sediment going into the river and the ability of the river to deposit this sediment over the delta during floods. Dams have also been built on the upper river and on some feeder streams, further trapping sediment. Without these levees, however, much of the delta and the banks of the upper river would be flooded regularly. This would make it impossible for large cities like New Orleans and St. Louis to exist in their current form. This table gives a good view of the periodic floods of the Mississippi:
Some models of the effect of climate change on hurricanes predict fewer storms but stronger storms. While all storms are a threat to the Louisiana coast, it is the large storms that threaten the very existence of cities such as New Orleans. Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog has excellent discussion of these models and whether the 2010 season is consistent with this theory:
For the nation, the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout and release was unprecedented in scope,scale, and duration. While the response system established by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990(OPA 90) has effectively dealt with approximately 1,500 oil spill incidents per year since itsenactment, this incident exposed deficiencies in planning and preparedness for an uncontrolledrelease of oil from an offshore drilling operation. The incident also highlighted the differencesbetween the system of response for oil spills and that provided for other emergencies such asnatural disasters and terrorist incidents.
Over the past decade, both public and private sector investment in planning and preparedness forand response to oil spills has decreased. If the public and Congress expect significantimprovements in this Nation’s ability to respond to catastrophic oil spills, additional funding willbe needed for improvements, which include research and development and increasedgovernmental oversight of private sector preparedness and response capability. To be effective,such oversight should begin at the outset of the offshore drilling permit process. This reporturges that planning and preparedness programs be reviewed, and that adequate funding beprovided to enhance oil spill preparedness and response programs so they can effectively addressan offshore Spill of National Significance.
Several areas of the United States are subject to tsunamis, and the coast north of San Francisco through the Canadian border has a history of catastrophic tsunamis. This report from FEMA details the tsunami risk in the United States:
Those who saw the damage from the Hurricane Katrina storm surge have noted that it looks very much like the tsunami damage. While a hurricane surge does not have the initial force of a fast moving tsunami, the wave action during the long period of inundation leads to very similar damage. It is likely that the New Orleans levees will be no more effective than the tsunami walls when the next great storm comes to the Louisiana Coast. As the Japanese learned, it is failing to work with realistic estimates of wave heights, not construction, that ultimately determines the usefulness of flood walls.
Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav were relatively dry storms. Had they been wet storms like Allison, the damage to Louisiana would have been much greater. If New Orleans received the 39 inches of rain that Houston received during Allison, it would overwhelm the pumps and would flood nearly as badly as with Katrina.
“Tropical Storm Allison produced severe storms, torrential rainfall, and associated flooding across the southern and eastern sections of the United States from June 5 to June 18, 2001. After making landfall near Galveston, Texas, on June 5, the storm moved inland to near Lufkin, Texas. Allison drifted back into the Gulf of Mexico on June 9, turned to the northeast, and made landfall again on June 10 near Morgan City, Louisiana. After causing 24 deaths in Texas and Louisiana, Allison moved across southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, southwest Georgia, and northern Florida, causing 9 more deaths. By mid-week, Allison stalled over North Carolina and produced more heavy rainfall and flooding before tracking northeast along the DelMarVa Peninsula and moving off the New England coast on June 18. Seven additional deaths occurred in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia. Figure 1 shows the path of Tropical Storm Allison, and Figure 2 shows the associated rainfall. Tropical Storm Allison caused more damage than any tropical storm in U.S. history, with estimates in excess of $5 billion. Most of the damage and fatalities (22) occurred in Houston, Texas. Storm rainfall totals peaked at 36.99 inches (Port of Houston) in Texas and 29.86 inches (Thibodaux) in Louisiana. Since this was the area of extreme rainfall and greatest impact in terms of damage and fatalities, the report focuses on NWS performance in southeast Texas and southern Louisiana.”
This is a presentation at the University of Oregon Public Interest Law Conference, March 5th, 2010:
The thesis is that coastal restoration is impossible on the Louisiana Coast. The only way to preserve the coastal ecology is to allow the coast to retreat as the ocean rises. Continuing to support coastal restoration empowers interest groups whose long term goal is to use levees to hold back the ocean. This will destroy the coastal wetlands, while increasing the costs of the eventual destruction of coastal infrastructure by ocean rise and hurricanes. The Black Swan is that environmental groups cannot accept that the dynamic world of ocean rise makes traditional notions of restoration impossible.
The blog cover image is a picture I took at Waveland, MS, looking toward Biloxi, after Hurricane Katrina. More of my Katrina images are available at: www.epr-art.com