Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: NSF, UC-Berkeley rotten to the corps .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Saturday, May 27, 2006

NSF, UC-Berkeley rotten to the corps

This week, the National Science Foundation, spearheaded by UC-Berkeley, issued a report on why the levees failed in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They were none too kind to the Army Corps of Engineers, Congress, and local and national agencies responsible for levee construction and maintenance. According to the report, not only have these agencies been lax in the past, their current efforts leave much to be desired as well.


The findings undermine assurances by the Bush administration and the Army Corps of Engineers that the federal levee repair program due to be completed in June will provide a higher level of protection to New Orleans, which sustained 1,293 deaths and property losses of more than $100 billon from Katrina.

The team's 600-page report disputed most of the corps' preliminary findings about what caused levee breaches, saying the corps' investigators had made critical errors in their analysis.

The corps "is conducting the most important engineering analysis in its history" in determining why storm walls and levees around New Orleans failed last August, Seed said.

"And they got it wrong. When the entire world is watching and a city has been destroyed, you want to get it right."


According to the report, the damage done by the hurricane wouldn't have been near as severe had preventive measures been taken based on predictions by, it seems like, just about everybody.


The report alleges that Katrina wouldn't have breached the region's hurricane protection system had it been properly financed, designed, built and maintained. It said all breaches and levee failures could have been avoided had the federal government been willing to pay for better designs that didn't require building "too close to the edge of safety."

Unfortunately, attempts to protect New Orleans from a major hurricane were shot down by the pork barrel politics in Congress. Apparently, South Louisiana didn't have a Tom DeLay to protect their interests. They do have William Jefferson, but apparently he was too busy lining his own pockets.

Granted, the Army Corps of Engineers did what they could with the resources available, yet they defended their actions with the usual beurocratic sleight-of-hand common in American politics:

Maj. Gen. Don Riley, director of the corps' civil works operation, said Monday that his staffers must finish reviewing details of the new report released Sunday before they can respond with specificity.

But Riley said his own review of the report's executive summary, coupled with remarks he heard Seed make in a lecture about a month ago, gives him a pretty good picture of the team's focus.

"I'm confident that all the recommendations he makes that are in the corps' control are already under way," he said. "We've taken action on everything in our purview."

The changes, which he said are being incorporated into repairs of the storm-damaged system, include more robust wall designs, increased safety factors, new scour protection behind floodwalls and armoring of critical levee sections.
Riley said the experts would have to sit down together and look at each other's work.

Riley said IPET has asked several times to see the Berkeley team's work, but it was not handed over until this weekend, when the report was also given to the media and posted on a Web site.

"We've asked them many times to share their analytical information, but they never did," Riley said "It may have helped us."


Until we can move away from finger-pointing and excuses, disasters like this will not be avoided, they will be blamed on others. Where's this "uniter" we elected 2004? Oh yeah, I forgot. He has problems of his own these days.

Meanwhile, NOAA predicts above average Atlantic hurricane activity this season, which begins June 1. They predict 13 - 16 named storms, 8 - 10 hurricanes, and 4 - 6 of them major (category 3 or greater). Compared to last year, when we had 28 named storms, and 15 hurricanes (7 of them major), this year sounds kind of light. But taking into account that NOAA predicted fewer storm last year than this year, I'm not chowing down on my hurricane supplies yet. This year's predictions are less than last year's because Atlantic water is not as warm now as it was this time last year, and there shouldn't be any El Nino or La Nina effects coming over from the Pacific.

So batten down the hatches, folks, and keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times. Hurricane season's coming! Though it may be a little tough to work up a good fear from Hurricanes named Chris, Debby, Gordon, or Sandy. But then I always thought Hurricane Katrina sounded like a Soviet roller derby queen. Shows what I know...

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