Expert Report

Structural Performance of the New Orleans Hurricane Protection System During Hurricane Katrina: Letter Report (2006)

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In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, flooding in the New Orleans region resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives and catastrophic property damage, ranking it among the largest natural disasters in U.S. history. In an effort to provide objective scientific and engineering answers as to the performance of the New Orleans metropolitan hurricane protection system, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formed the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) to conduct several studies on the system. At the U.S. Department of the Army\u0092s request, the National Academies formed a committee to review IPET\u0092s work. This letter responds to the first IPET report issued on January 10, 2006. The letter commends the IPET group for progress in some areas of its overall study, and also offers several recommendations for improving data gathering and analytical efforts. Among these recommendations are the encouragement of more extensive use of geographic information systems for analysis, visualization, and communication; better characterization of the levels of confidence and uncertainties in data being gathered; creation of a region-wide map of geologic and soil conditions; and stronger emphasis on evaluating overall, regional hurricane protection system strengths and vulnerabilities. The report recommends that, although it is tempting for the IPET group to quickly undertake numerous projects in the field in an effort to show progress, such activities will ideally be guided by a clear, definitive, and system-wide plan for data collection, analysis, and implementation. All planned tasks should support the goal of the parent study, which should ultimately enable the design of a hurricane protection system to adequately protect New Orleans. The National Academies is expected to issue two additional reports on this topic in 2006.