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Hurricane Katrina: Five years later

Gulf Coast August 2010 

On August 29, 2005, New Orleans and communities all along the Gulf Coast were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the catastrophic failure of the hurricane protection system—one of the nation’s worst infrastructure disasters ever. In the five years since Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast region has made great strides in its recovery efforts, both from the levee failures and from the more recent oil spill. However, much work remains.

INHC Surge Barrier Construction 
From 2009: Construction of the Inner
 Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier
 

 In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, ASCE preformed a technical assessment, gathering data and conducting onsite visual inspections. Subsequently, the society was also asked to create an External Review Panel (ERP) to conduct a peer review of the work performed by the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET), a group convened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to review the performance of the New Orleans and southeast Louisiana hurricane protection systems. The ERP issued its report, The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System: What Went Wrong and Why, in 2007.

 The lessons learned from the engineering and engineering-related policy failures triggered by Hurricane Katrina have profound implications for other American communities and a sobering message to people nationwide: we must place the protection of safety, health, and welfare at the forefront of our nation’s priorities. That is why ASCE created the Guiding Principles for the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure—a set of interdependent guiding principles designed to inform the planning, funding, design, construction and operation of critical infrastructure systems—and encouraged its members to promote them to all stakeholders and advocate for adoption of specific actions needed to facilitate the necessary change.

 Additionally, ASCE recognized that, despite all the public awareness created by the failures during Hurricane Katrina, many communities still did not understand the risks that come with living behind a levee. In 2009, the society issued, So, You Live Behind a Levee, a booklet designed to help answer questions about levees and their associated risk, and to help individuals and communities act now to better protect themselves against future flood threats.

The devastating consequences of the levee failures in New Orleans served as a stark reminder of how vitally important our nation’s critical infrastructure systems are to a region’s prosperity and to the well being of its people, and what is at stake if we do nothing to improve them. 

Learn more about ASCE’s disaster preparedness and response efforts.