12 April 2006

If You Tell a Lie Big Enough and Keep Repeating It, People Will Eventually Come to Believe It PART 3: Former FEMA Director Michael "Brownie" Brown

Source: State of Louisiana LIDAR Data/USACE Post-Katrina Aerial Imagery.

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
--Joseph Goebbels

In early March 2006 tapes were obtained by the Associated Press of a 28 August 2005 pre-storm teleconferences between FEMA, the National Hurricane Center, Gulf Coast states emergency preparedness agencies, Department of Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff, and The President. This allegedly "leaked" footage to one side proved The President's "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" statement a few days later displayed complete incompetence or worse was a downright lie and to the other side the footage amounted to "nothing new to see here--move along." This post isn't meant to re-examine that question, however the tape did feature a remark by then-FEMA Director Michael Brown worthy of review--and correction.

The point of my "If You Tell a Lie Big Enough and Keep Repeating It, People Will Eventually Come to Believe It" posts are to identify and scientifically disprove false, fabricated, and fictitious "high profile" statements that irrevocably fog perceptions concerning the realities of rebuilding and re-investing in New Orleans. Such incorrect "facts" by those with publicized voices whether intentionally spoken to mislead or honestly misinformed mistakes, perpetuate unfounded myths that do not help and garner outside support or favorable public opinion for New Orleans post-KTMB.

Here's the Michael Brown quote in question:

"As you may or may not know, the Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level ... "

THE LIE: The ground elevation at the Louisiana Superdome is 12 feet below sea level.

THE TRUTH: See maps above. The first one categorizes the elevations of the immediate CBD vicinity of the Louisiana Superdome and New Orleans Area in 2.5 foot increments. The entire footprint of the Superdome/Arena falls within values of sea level (0.0 elevation) or above. The second map displays select spot elevations around the perimeter of the stadium/arena complex. (The High-res version of this map covering entire perimeter of the facility can be seen here). As proved in the previous "If you tell a lie enough . . ." post, the sites within New Orleans that are 10 feet (or more) below sea level are limited to specific drainage and underpass locations, so therefore Michael Brown's 12 foot below declaration of the elevation of the Louisiana Superdome is completely erroneous. If the base elevation of the Louisiana Superdome was 12 feet below sea level, the building would have filled up with Lake Pontchartrain floodwaters to the depth of 14.5 feet. At that depth the first 1/3 of the plaza level of seats (the lowest tier) inside the Louisiana Superdome would have been completely submerged. That's not quite what happened there . . .

For those that would argue I am getting caught up in semantics, my response is simple. Yes, yes I am--because when these semantic mistakes are made repeatedly by multiple "credible" sources that spawn the "Goebbels' Effect" (again whether intentionally or not--it does not matter). Then they get repeated and distorted even further by secondary message-carriers until the accepted, unquestioned truth is no where near the reality. How many radio call in shows or pundits on cable television have I heard since August 2005 repeat the exaggerated below sea level claims? I hear it nearly every day.

If something is repeated and claimed over and over it must be true, right? This is rule #1 of propaganda. Perhaps Brownie intended to say that the facility was near or below sea level and was in a precarious place to utilize as an evacuation shelter if the floodwaters swamped the City of New Orleans. Fine. Except that's not what he said . . . . and it's not what is repeated over and over again by people like Utah Senator Bob Bennett and Tim Kusky. . .

I'm sure PART 4 of this series will surface . . .

If you are interested in maps such as the ones above for specific areas of New Orleans, send me an email.


At April 12, 2006 11:38 PM, Blogger Tim said...

You keep 'em coming! We need to have more honest talk about flood protection in New Orleans. Check this recent story from the Chicago Tribune:


It starts off like this: "When you land at Amsterdam's sprawling Schiphol Airport, one of the busiest in Europe, it is easy to forget that the runways are 15 feet below sea level."

Okay, so we're supposed to be following the Dutch example, yes? So does that mean we cut and run because parts of our fair city are *gasp* a three or four feet below sea level???



At April 13, 2006 4:01 AM, Anonymous ashley said...

LIDAR data don't lie. Politicians, poorly informed journalists and their readers do.

At April 13, 2006 5:49 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Check this out, from a comment on my last post:


Doesn't do much to advance sience, does it?

At April 14, 2006 9:07 AM, Blogger Roux said...

Although, you are correct that some people did think the levees would be breached. I think the general feeling of most New Orleanians and Louisianians was that the levees would hold.

I've heard many people evacuated/relocated to the Baton Rouge area say the same thing. Basically they thought they be back home after a few days and everthing would be OK.

That being said, officials should always plan for a worst case scenario. Obviously, not many did.

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At March 06, 2010 8:44 AM, Blogger VUONG said...

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