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RESTON, Va.—In a 92-page report published in June by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Hurricane Katrina External Review Panel (ERP) provides its conclusions about the failure of New Orleans’ flood protection system during the devastating storm almost two years ago. The report—The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why—synthesizes the extensive findings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce and other research teams and addresses "lingering misperceptions and unsubstantiated theories."

"It’s so easy to react to armchair theories and colorful sound-bites," said David Daniel, Ph.D., P.E., president of the University of Texas at Dallas and chair of the ERP. "Few people have the time to sort through 7,000 pages of technical data. Unfortunately, people sometimes end up making policy based on headlines, not science. In our report, we offer a rational basis from which the nation can move forward."

Recommendations included in the ERP report include the following:

  • keep safety at the forefront of public priorities by having all responsible agencies reevaluate their policies and practices to ensure that protection of public safety, health, and welfare is the top priority for infrequent but potentially devastating impacts from hurricanes and flooding;
  • encourage Congress to establish and fund a mechanism for a nationwide levee safety and rehabilitation program, as is done for major dams;
  • determine the level of acceptable risk in communities through quality programs of public risk communication in New Orleans and other areas threatened by hurricanes and flooding;
  • upgrade engineering design procedures to place greater emphasis on safety; and
  • engage independent experts in high-level reviews of all critical life safety structures, including hurricane and flood protection systems.

"The lessons we have learned from the devastating tragedy in New Orleans will have profound implications for other American communities," said Daniel, "and should serve as a sobering reminder to people nationwide that we must place the protection of public safety, health, and welfare at the forefront of our nation’s priorities."

The report is available online at www.asce.org.

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