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The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System, Report in Brief

The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and surrounding areas in August 2005, ranks as one of the nation's most devastating natural disasters. Shortly after the storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established a task force to assess the performance of the levees, floodwalls, and other structures comprising the area's hurricane protection system during Hurricane Katrina. At the request of the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Research Council convened a committee to examine a series of reports and drafts released by the task force. This report provides an independent review of the task force's final draft report and identifies key lessons from the Katrina experience and their implications for future hurricane preparedness and planning in the region. The report concludes that comprehensive flood planning and risk management should be based on a combination of measures, including voluntary relocation options, floodproofing and elevation of structures, and evacuation studies and plans.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and surrounding areas in August 2005, ranks as one of the nation's most devastating natural disasters. Shortly after the storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established a task force to assess the performance of the levees, floodwalls, and other structures comprising the area's hurricane protection system during Hurricane Katrina. At the request of the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Research Council convened a committee to examine a series of reports and drafts released by the task force. This report provides an independent review of the task force's final draft report and identifies key lessons from the Katrina experience and their implications for future hurricane preparedness and planning in the region. The report concludes that comprehensive flood planning and risk management should be based on a combination of measures, including voluntary relocation options, floodproofing and elevation of structures, and evacuation studies and plans.

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Published by: earthandlife on Dec 15, 2010
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       T       H       E
 CMI   S 
NATIONAL
I  I  
REPORT
National Academy of Sciences • National Academy of Engineering • Institute of Medicine • National Research Council
Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and surrounding areas in August 2005, ranks asone of the nation’s most devastating natural disasters. Shortly after the storm, the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers established a task force to assess the performance of the levees, oodwalls,
and other structures comprising the area’s hurricane protection system during Hurricane
Katrina. This report provides an independent review of the task force’s nal draft report andidenties key lessons from the Katrina experience and their implications for future hurricane
preparedness and planning in the region.
 N
ew Orleans is well known for itsimportant historical role near themouth of the Mississippi River,for its status as a major U.S. port city, and for its jazz music and cuisine. New Orleans also
is well known for its vulnerability to ooding.Large areas of the New Orleans metropolitanregion are located at or below sea level and are
surrounded by bodies of water—the Mississippi
River, Lake Pontchartrain, and Lake Borgne— that rise and can overow during hurricanesand oods. The region’s proximity to the large,
shallow continental shelf of the northern Gulf 
of Mexico makes it even more vulnerable tohurricane storm surge, which is a mass of water 
 pushed shoreward by hurricane winds.
These vulnerabilities were made pain
-
fully clear during Hurricane Katrina. Duringand immediately after the hurricane’s landfall,homes and buildings throughout New Orleansand surrounding areas were inundated withstorm surge and oodwaters; more than onethousand lives were lost in the event. Although
there were hundreds of miles of levees and
oodwalls and an extensive pumping system in place when Katrina struck, the storm exposedmany weaknesses in this infrastructure. Largesections of the network of levees and oodwallswere overtopped and eroded; levee breaches at
four sites across the city further allowed watersto penetrate and overwhelm much of the city.
The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System
Evacuation efforts in the days before Katrina suc
-cessfully evacuated tens of thousands of residents, but these efforts were inadequate to move all of 
the city’s residents to safety. Property damageswere extensive and widespread; in many areas, thedestruction from Katrina is still apparent today.In the wake of Katrina, the U.S. Army Corpsof Engineers established the Interagency Perfor 
-
mance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) to address
fundamental questions about the performanceof the New Orleans hurricane protection system
during Hurricane Katrina and to assess the risks posed to the New Orleans region by future tropicalstorms. The Army Corps of Engineers requested
Assessing pre-Katrina Vulnerability andImproving Mitigation and Preparedness
Floodwaters inundated much of New Orleans dur 
-
ing Hurricane Katrina, exposing vulnerabilities inthe area’s hurricane protection system.
   I  m  a  g  e  c  o  u  r   t  e  s  y  o   f   N   O   A   A .
 
that the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council convene a committee of experts to examine a series of draft reports released bythe IPET. This, the committee’s fth and nal report,reviews the nal IPET assessment and identies keylessons from the Katrina experience that can informfuture efforts to enhance hurricane mitigation and
 preparedness.
Key Lessons Learned
Better hurricane preparedness for New Orleanswill require a combination of structural and nonstruc-
tural measures. Some key lessons from the Katrinaexperience that the report identies are as follows:
The Limits of Protective Structures
The major guiding principle behind the con
-struction and maintenance of the New Orleanshurricane protection system has been to “make the
city safe.” However, this report nds that approachto be—although noble—awed. The greater NewOrleans metropolitan region is naturally vulner 
-
able to ooding, especially in areas below sea level.Although post-Katrina repairs to and strengthening
of the physical hurricane protection structures havereduced some vulnerabilities, the risks of inundation
and ooding never can be fully eliminated by protec
-
tive structures, no matter how large or sturdy those
structures may be.
Future Footprint of the HurricaneProtection System
Hurricane Katrina showed that there was undue
optimism about the ability of the hurricane protec-
tion infrastructure in the greater New Orleans area to provide reliable ood protection. Despite the weak 
-
nesses in the system that were exposed during theKatrina experience, however, it appears that recon
-
struction activities are taking place largely accordingto the system’s pre-Katrina footprint—without seriousThe New Orleans hurricane protection system is com
-
 posed of roughly 350 miles of levees, oodwalls, andother structures. Large sections of this system wereovertopped during Hurricane Katrina; there were leveefailures at four sites in New Orleans. The above imageshows a breach at the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal.Map showing
features of storm
surge damage in
 New Orleans dur-
ing and followingHurricane Katrina.
Pink and blue
shading indicatesareas that ooded;
 blue-striped areasare wetlands. Starsindicate levee breaches or dis-
tressed levee areas;
circles indicate
 pumping stations.
Map courtesy of USGS.
   I  m  a  g  e  c  o  u  r   t  e  s  y  o   f   N   O   A   A .
 
consideration of whether this design is advisable andsustainable. For example, the creation of a protectionsystem with a smaller overall footprint might offer signicant advantages in terms of cost, inspection, andmaintenance requirements. This report recommends
that, at the very least, there should be discussions that
consider the pros and cons of different designs anddifferent levels of protection across the region.
Relocation to Improve Public Safety
Regardless of future levee construction activi
-ties, it likely will not be possible to provide equal
degrees of ood protection across the city. Higher-elevation parts of the region, such as areas on the
natural Mississippi River levees, inherently are safer 
than lower-lying areas, such as extensive areas belowsea level in St. Bernard’s, Orleans, and New OrleansEast parishes. Rebuilding the New Orleans area andits protective system to its pre-Katrina state would
simply leave the city and its inhabitants vulnerable to
additional Katrina-like disasters. This report recom
-
mends that planning and design for upgrading thesystem instead should discourage settlement in those
areas that are most vulnerable to hurricane storm
surge ooding. Because protective structures never can provide absolute protection against hurricanestorm surge and ooding, the voluntary relocation of  people and neighborhoods out of particularly vulner 
-able areas—with adequate resources to improve their 
living conditions in less vulnerable areas—should be
considered as a viable public policy option.
Enhancing Floodproong Measures
Where it is not feasible to relocate people
and buildings out of vulnerable areas, signicantimprovements in oodproong measures will beessential. To adequately protect the safety of homesand residents in these areas, the rst oor of houses
should be elevated to at least an elevation associated
with the 100-year storm event. Raising them evenhigher, to meet a more conservative level of ood protection, is preferable (see the section below for further discussion of the 100-year ood protectionstandard).In addition to elevating homes and other build
-
ings, critical infrastructure, such as electric power,water, gas, telecommunications, and ood water col
-
lection and pumping facilities, should be strengthened
to ensure that interdependent infrastructure systems
can function reliably in an extreme ooding event.
Re-examining the 100-year Level of Flood
Protection
The 100-year level of ood protection—whichdenes areas with a one percent chance of oodingeach year—is a crucial ood insurance standard. It
has been applied widely across the nation and it is
 being used in some circumstances for reconstructionand planning activities in the New Orleans region.For areas where levee failure is not a safety concern,it may be appropriate to use this 100-year standardin developing regulations, setting insurance rates,and informing decisions in city planning and disaster  preparedness. However, for heavily-populated urban
areas where the failure of protective structures would be catastrophic—such as New Orleans—this standardis inadequate.
Rethinking Evacuation Plans and Protocols
The disaster response plan for New Orleans,although extensive and instrumental in successfullyevacuating a very large portion of the New Orleans
metropolitan area population, was inadequate for the
Katrina event. The report identies a need for moreextensive and systematic evacuation studies, plans,
and communication of evacuation plans. A compre-
hensive evacuation program should include not onlywell designed and tested evacuation plans, protocols,and criteria for evacuation warnings, but also alterna
-
tives such as improved local and regional shelters thatcould make evacuations less imposing. It also shouldconsider longer-term strategies that can enhance theefciency of evacuations, such as locating facilities
for the ill and elderly away from more hazardous areasthat may be subject to frequent evacuations.
This elevated house, the only one in its neighborhood,sheltered 37 people through Hurricane Katrina. Eleva
-
tion of homes is an essential oodproong measure to protect people and buildings in vulnerable areas.
   I  m  a  g  e  c  o  u  r   t  e  s  y  o   f   F   E   M   A .

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