CASE 16 Hurricane Katrina The ASCE report documents engineering failures, organizational and policy failures, and lessons learned for the future. Chapter 7 of the report (“Direct Causes of the Catastrophe”) begins as follows:44 What is unique about the devastation that befell the New Orleans area from Hurricane Katrina—compared to other natural disasters—is that much of the destruc- tion was the result of engineering and engineering- related policy failures. From an engineering standpoint, the panel asserts, there was an underestimation of soil strength that ren- dered the levees more vulnerable than they should have been, a failure to satisfy standard factors of safety in the original designs of the levees and pumps, and a failure to determine and communicate clearly to the public the level of hurricane risk to which the city and its residents were exposed. The panel concludes,45 As we have noted in the text, until approximately 1970 nearly all engineering codes of ethics held that the engineer’s first duty is fidelity to his or her employer and clients. However, soon after 1970, most codes insisted that “Engineers shall hold para- mount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Whatever may have precipitated this change in the early 1970s, recent events—ranging from the collapse of Manhattan’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, to the collapse of a major bridge in Minneapolis/St. Paul on August 1, 2007— make apparent the vital importance of this principle. The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf of Mexico coastline states of Louisiana, Mis- sissippi, and Alabama in late August 2005 is also a dramatic case in point. Hardest hit was Louisiana, which endured the loss of more than 1,000 lives, thousands of homes, damage to residential and nonresidential property of more than $20 billion, and damage to public infra- structure estimated at nearly $7 billion. Most severely damaged was the city of New Orleans, much of which had to be evacuated and which suffered the loss of more than 100,000 jobs. The city is still reel- ing, apparently having permanently lost much of its population and only slowly recovering previously habitable areas. At the request of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), the ASCE formed the Hurricane Katrina Ex- ternal Review Panel to review the comprehensive work of USACE’s Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force. The resulting ASCE report, The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why, is a detailed and eloquent statement of the ethical responsibilities of engineers to protect public safety, health, and welfare. 43 With the benefit of hindsight, we now see that questionable engineering decisions and management choices, and inadequate interfaces within and between organizations, all contributed to the problem. This might suggest that blame-responsibility is in order. However, the panel chose not to pursue this line, pointing out instead the difficulty of assigning blame:46 No one person or decision is to blame. The engineer- ing failures were complex, and involved numerous deci- sions by many people within many organizations over a long period of time. Rather than attempt to assign blame, the panel used the hindsight it acquired to make recommenda- tions about the future. The report identifies a set of crit- ical actions the panel regards as necessary. These CASE 16 • Hurricane Katrina 251 actions fall under one of four needed shifts in thought and approach:47 • Improve the understanding of risk and firmly commit to safety. • Repair the hurricane protection system. Reorganize the management of the hurricane protection system. • Insist on engineering quality. that “ASCE has a long-standing policy that recommends independent external peer review of public works proj- ects where performance is critical to public safety, health, and welfare.” 51 This is especially so where re- liability under emergency conditions is critical, as it clearly was when Hurricane Katrina struck. The effec- tive operation of such an external review process, the panel concludes, could have resulted in a significant re- duction in the amount of (but by no means all) destruc- tion in the case of Hurricane Katrina. The panel’s final recommendation is essentially a reminder of our limitations and a consequent ethical imperative to “place safety first”:52 The first recommended action is that safety be kept at the forefront of public priorities, preparing for the possibility of future hurricanes rather than allowing experts and citizens alike to fall into a complacency that can come from the relative unlikelihood of a repeat performance in the near future. The second and third recommendations concern making clear and quantifiable risk estimates and com- municating them to the public in ways that enable nonexperts to have a real voice in determining the ac- ceptability or unacceptability of those risks. The next set of recommendations concern replac- ing the haphazard, uncoordinated hurricane protection “system” with a truly organized, coherent system. This, the panel believes, calls for “good leadership, manage- ment, and someone in charge.’48 It is the panel’s rec- ommendation that a high-level licensed engineer, or a panel of highly qualified, licensed engineers, be appointed with full authority to oversee the system:49 Although the conditions leading up to the New Or- leans catastrophe are unique, the fundamental con- straints placed on engineers for any project are not. Every project has funding and/or schedule limitations. Every project must integrate into the natural and man- made environment. Every major project has political ramifications. In the face of pressure to save money or to make up time, engineers must remain strong and hold true to the requirements of the profession’s canon of ethics, never compromising the safety of the public. The authority’s overarching responsibility will be to keep hurricane-related safety at the forefront of public priorities. The authority will provide leadership, strate- gic vision, definition of roles and responsibilities, for- malized avenues of communication, prioritization of funding, and coordination of critical construction, main- tenance, and operations. The panel concludes with an appeal to a broader application of the first Fundamental Canon of ASCE’s Code of Ethics. Not only must the commitment to pro- tect public safety, health, and welfare be the guiding principle for New Orleans’ hurricane protection system but also “it must be applied with equal rigor to every aspect of an engineer’s work—in New Orleans, in America, and throughout the world.”53 Reading the panel’s report in its entirety would be a valuable exercise in thinking through what ASCE’s first Fundamental Canon requires not only regarding the Hurricane Katrina disaster but also regarding other basic responsibilities to the public that are inher- ent in engineering practice. A related reading is “Leadership, Service Learn- ing, and Executive Management in Engineering: The Rowan University Hurricane Katrina Recovery Team,” by a team of engineering students and faculty advisors at Rowan University. 54 In their abstract, the authors identify three objectives for the Hurricane Katrina Recovery Team Project: The panel’s seventh recommendation is to im- prove interagency coordination. The historical record thus far, the panel maintains, is disorganization and poor mechanisms for interagency communication:50 Those responsible for maintenance of the hurricane protection system must collaborate with system design- ers and constructors to upgrade their inspection, repair, and operations to ensure that the system is hurricane-ready and flood-ready. Recommendations 8 and 9 relate to the upgrading and review of design procedures. The panel points out The main objective is to help distressed communities in the Gulf Coast Region. Second, this project seeks to 252 CASES the Asian tsunami disaster. Hafner and Deutsch 56 comment, not only address broader social issues but also leave a tangible contribution or impact in the area while asking the following questions: What do we as profes- sional engineers have as a responsibility to the commun- ities we serve, and what do we leave in the community to make it a better, more equitable place to live? The last objective is the management team’s successful assess- ment of the experience, including several logistical chal- lenges. To this end, this article seeks to help other student-led projects by relaying our service learning ex- perience in a coherent, user-friendly manner that serves as a model experience. With two disasters behind them, some companies are applying lessons they have learned to their hurricane-related philanthropy. GE is a case in point. During the tsunami, the company put together a team of 50 project engineers—experts in portable water purification, energy, health care, and medical equipment. After Hurricane Katrina, GE executives took their cues from Jeffrey R. Immelt, GE’s chief executive, and reactivated the same tsunami team for New Orleans. “Jeff told us, ‘Don’t let anything stand in the way of get- ting aid where it’s needed,'”‘ said Robert Corcoran, vice president for corporate citizenship. CORPORATE RESPONSES Supportive corporate responses to the Katrina hurri- cane were swift. By mid-September 2005, more than $312 million worth of aid had been donated by major corporations, much of it by those with no plants or businesses in the afflicted areas. 55 Engineers have played a prominent role in these relief efforts, as they did after the 9/11 Twin Towers attack and Discuss how, with corporate backing, engineers who subscribe to Fred Cuny’s ideas about effective di- saster relief in his Disasters and Development (Oxford University Press, 1983) might approach the engineer- ing challenges of Katrina.
Purchase answer to see full attachment