New Orleans levee report finished by panel including University of Texas at Austin engineer

A report that recommends steps to reduce hurricane damage in New Orleans was released today by an expert engineering panel of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

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.

Dr. Robert Gilbert, the risk expert on the ASCE panel and a civil engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin, noted that their risk analysis confirms the vulnerable nature of the citys hurricane protection system. In the report, the panel estimated that despite the levees and floodwalls, New Orleans residents pre-Katrina risk was at a 1,000-fold higher rate than considered minimally acceptable for a major U.S. dam.

A thousand people died in New Orleans, and the system failed once in 40 years, said the international risk assessment expert. Thats way off the chart of acceptable risk if you compare the system to major U.S. dams, which have governmental oversight and must meet federal safety guidelines.

Determining the factors that directly or indirectly led to this high risk was a major goal of the ASCE panel as an essential step to help the city make informed decisions about the future.

Given the high risk, some very significant decisions need to be made about how New Orleans is going to be redeveloped and function in the future, Gilbert said. The risk of flooding should influence everything from how people are evacuated to where and how houses are re-built and land is re-developed. Building houses on ground that is 5 to 10 feet below sea level and assuming they will never get wet is nonsensical.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in June to release its assessment of the inherent risk of the 350-mile, New Orleans hurricane protection sys

Contact: Barbra Rodriguez
University of Texas at Austin

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