You are not logged in. Login

September 2009 Volume 34, Number 9


Integrity in the Face of Adversity

During the July meeting of the Society’s Board of Direction, the ASCE Post-Disaster Assessment Manual, a work developed by our Task Committee on Engineering Review Procedures (TCERP), was adopted, bringing to a close an important chapter in ASCE’s involvement in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the search for answers after a community is devastated by a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, misinformation can run rampant, and reactions are often based on emotions rather than facts. It is for exactly those reasons that ASCE stepped forward when asked to review the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ hurricane protection system performance evaluation. As engineers charged by our Code of Ethics to protect public safety and advance the practice of engineering, we knew there was much to be learned from the tragedy. We also knew that public trust and understanding of the study’s results would be vital to a successful recovery of the region.

The External Review Panel (ERP), whose members included some of the country’s foremost experts, devoted thousands of hours of their time to the three-year study and performed an incredible service to the people of New Orleans and the civil engineering profession. Their final report remains the definitive explanation of what went wrong and why.

To best serve the public interest, the work of these dedicated volunteers needed to be conducted in an open, public manner. In this way their opinions were subjected to criticism from those who disagreed or had other agendas. Some of those criticisms were widely disseminated, both in the New Orleans area and within ASCE.

Leaders of the Society properly chose to refrain from a public defense and instead called for a full review of the critics’ charges. David G. Mongan P.E., F.ASCE, at the time the Society’s president, appointed an independent task force chaired by Sherwood Boehlert, a former congressman from New York, that was asked to advise ASCE on ways to improve its disaster review process. The TCERP was then charged with devising a plan for implementing the recommendations from Boeh-lert’s group. That effort is now embodied in the new manual.

ASCE simultaneously initiated a review by the Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) of all charges of improper conduct leveled during the ERP’s work. After more than a year of investigation that involved numerous interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents, the CPC’s findings exonerated all of those named in the allegations.

I am proud of the professionalism and ethical standards ASCE adopted when confronted with these charges, and I believe the outcome of both reviews should confirm to our members and the public that the Society was and is an organization that can and should be trusted with safeguarding the nation’s infrastructure.

We have now entered another chapter in our relationship with the disaster recovery efforts. In May Louisiana’s senior U.S. senator, Mary Landrieu (D), invited ASCE to participate in a fact-finding tour of the Netherlands (see “Klotz Joins Congressional Delegation, Participates in Triennial Conference,” ASCE News, July/August 2009, pages 1–2), where we sought to explore new ideas for the protection of coastal cities.

So, ASCE and its bevy of acronyms move forward. I express my appreciation to those who served as members of the ERP, the CPC, and the TCERP under sometimes tempestuous circumstances. Our expertise and integrity are still intact. Since Katrina, we have sent teams to investigate disasters that have included an earthquake in Italy and Hurricane Ike. We remain ready to send teams wherever they are needed. To view a PDF
of the manual, visit here