17 July 2006

A Brief Look in the Mirror

I'd like to expand on a reply I made to a post concerning prosecuting those responsible for the deaths resulting from failed civil works projects. If I understood I.D. Reily's post, he suggested Charles Foti dropped the ball by not prosecuting those responsible for the deaths resulting from the levee failures during Katrina. I disagreed (without name calling...imagine that) because:

It discourages new construction and out the box thinking. No one can argue that the New Orleans area levee system is unique, not just to the country but the world. Unlike levee constrution, highway and building design is taught in enginnering courses around the country. There are BMP's (best management practices) and volumes of research avalible for proper design of these structures. While similar BMP's exist for levees, this work is more modern and was untested until Katrina. If engineers have to worry about being prosecuted or sued by attempting unprecedented civil works projects, what person or contracting company is going to take on the job of protecting this city?

Double talk. If you ask to prosecute the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contractors at the same time as asking for CAT 5 levees then your talking out both sides of your mouth. Be consistent. BTW, double talk has been wide spread lately. Here's a few of my favorites:

  • My favorite example of this is people who were critical of looters --- everyone knows a few. You know, the type of people who repeatedly take shots at those on welfare "because they take advantage of the system" or those stealing the TV's during the storm, but then when they got home after being gone for two weeks to their relatively unharmed home (for those who didn't flood) they applied for full FEMA assistance because all of a sudden "they deserved it". I still can't figure out whats worse, the people looting TV's or those critical while in line at Best Buy buying the same TV with left over FEMA money they didn't need. Funny how it's never "taking advantage of the system" when money and food stamps is offered to you.
  • Another example is people being critical of Californians who built in known landslide areas. I admit, I'm guilty of this one. I was one of the one's before the storm pointing fingers saying "how could people live in those areas" and "people shouldn't rebuild in that area." My perspective really changed when I was traveling post-K and people asked the same questions. I know many bias readers would disagree, but us/we living in flood prone metro New Orleans are no different than those living in California where they are just as prone to landsides.

Enough with the finger pointing. Take SOME responsibility for the area you choose to reside. Its almost been a year, time to move on with your life and rebuild or just plain move to an area with less vulnerablity.

Once THE event took place, many people played the Jeff Spicoli card, "I don't know" ---Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I hope you already knew that. Now that this has happened no one can play stupid and get off by saying "I didn't know." I'd argue 99% of the people reading this post had some idea of the risks involved with living in this area unless you somehow missed the T-P spreads, hour news specials on the issue, National Geographic editions, coastal experts, etc., etc. predicting this event. If you knew before the storm that levees would eventually be toppled or broken pre-K, then while pointing fingers and playing the blame game, be consistant and hold yourself partially accountable.

In case you "didn't know" the history of levees, do a five minute google search... THEY BREAK.

In my opinion, you can't hold engineers liable for known engineering liabilities. To think engineers purposely designed something to fail is ridiculous. They used the best science currently available, ran those numbers and built what they could within an approved budget.

TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Flooding, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Levees


At July 17, 2006 9:34 PM, Anonymous GentillyGirl said...

Engineers didn't know?

Honey, I'm a Nuclear Engineer, and a Geologist. I know what those fools did. They freakin' faked their data.

How the fucking Hell can you defend them?

Bring your argument to me, and I will demolish your position.

At July 18, 2006 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello from a N.O. native who moved to Europe for job reasons several months after Katrina. Just wish to say I agree with you about those who took the $2,000 when they suffered relatively little damage. I know several people who were & still are financially very well off who took the FEMA money as well as Red Cross aid & bragged about it. Some of these friends/acquaintances also admitted that they lied to their insurance companies in order to get as much money as they could. I might add that they admit that they voted for Bush too. I am very saddened by this behavior & attitude.

At July 18, 2006 7:28 AM, Blogger I. D. Reilly said...

There is nothing experimental about floodwalls and levees. Matter of fact, the engineering of flood control projects has been implemented, studied, and taught for as long a period of time as any other type of civil engineering projects (e.g., bridges). The 1927 Mississippi River flood truly started the modern design and construction of flood control projects. Floodwalls such as those used in New Orleans are used all over the U.S. in coastal urban areas. Matter of fact, much of urban California relies on floodwalls for flood protection and these floodwalls must withstand much greater forces from riverine flooding in a steeply sloping landscape then the floodwalls along canals in New Orleans.

I understand your point of view, but we live in a society where those that cause the deaths of others, even unintentionally, are held responsible. The Corps is not subject to lawsuits for failed flood control projects because of a law passed in the 1920s protecting them, but individual engineers that design projects, conduct geotechnical studies, and oversee construction could be prosecuted.

Finally, if you want poor quality design and construction to continue in future flood control projects (such as Cat 5 protection) don't hold anyone accountable for failures in past design. Pointing your fingers at a giant federal agency will not help either; those individuals working for the Corps today were not involved in most of these projects. And remember, professional engineers and the companies they work for take on the liability for designs when they stamp and sign the plans. Every professional engineer knows that if the design fails they could be found at fault. The Corps designs very few of their civil works projects and relies on private contractors to do that work. There are individual professional engineers that generated and stamped the design plans for the failed floodwalls and those individuals, not the monstrous agency they were contracted to, are ultimately responsible.

At July 18, 2006 8:13 AM, Blogger Renegade Seismology said...

I've got just about all the
engineering reports that have
been made publically available on
the failure of the hurricane
protection system and there's more
than enough evidence in them for
a negligence lawsuit. What is
most disturbing in the NSF-funded
study is that there were either
improper materials used or
problems discovered during design
or construction that should have
sent up warning flags but didn't.
As a prominent earthquake engineer
I know said once "It's the
engineer's job to know where the
weakest link in his design is and
make it strong enough, because
you don't want Mother Nature to
find it for you."

I'm also a geoscientist like
GentillyGirl and Maitri so we
*can* read and understand the
geotechnical details. Too much
of the levee system failed
below its design level.

At July 22, 2006 9:47 PM, Blogger dangerblond said...

This message is being sent to NOLA bloggers, Louisiana bloggers, Katrina bloggers and those blogging from the Diaspora. The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans will soon be here. On August 25-27, 2006, there will be a convention for all people who care about New Orleans, here in New Orleans. The Rising Tide Conference is being planned and hosted by bloggers and we are requesting your participation.

The Rising Tide Conference will be a gathering for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist New Orleans' recovery from the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We will come together to dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a "real life" demonstration of internet activism as the nation prepares to mark the one year anniversary of a massive natural disaster followed by governmental failures on a similar scale.

This e-mail is being sent to you to as part of an attempt to create a comprehensive e-mailing list of interested bloggers who would like to participate or attend. In the coming weeks, announcements will be made about venues and events via this list. Please forward this e-mail to anyone who may be interested in the Rising Tide Conference.

A Rising Tide Wiki has been assembled where you can find information, make suggestions, offer help and provide information.

Please go to the Blogger List part of the Wiki and check the entry for your blog and make sure the information is correct. If you see that a blog is missing, please add it to the list.

More information will be coming soon. Check the Wiki for updates.

Thanks from

Kim Marshall
Mark Moseley
Ashley Morris
Maitri Venkat-Ramani
Lisa Palumbo
Peter Athas
Jeffrey B.
Morwen Madrigal
Alan Gutierrez
Ray Shea
George Williams IV
and Blake Haney


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