New Orleans: Are the Levees Ready? A report out this week finds that the levees in New Orleans failed during Hurricane Katrina not because the storm was so big, but because of problems in the way they were designed, built, and maintained. Ira Flatow leads a discussion on whether New Orleans is ready for a new storm season.
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New Orleans: Are the Levees Ready?

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New Orleans: Are the Levees Ready?

New Orleans: Are the Levees Ready?

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FLATOW: For the rest of the hour, we're going to talk about preparing for hurricanes, and looking at what happened with New Orleans and the levee system there. This week, engineers were finished repairing, getting ready to finish up on the New Orleans levee system just in time for the start of this year's hurricane season. But critics say the city's flood protection system, even with these repairs, isn't ready for another really big storm. And the main problem, they say, is that the levees were built to - and rebuilt, to provide the same kind of level protection as before the storm, before Hurricane Katrina, and that's simply not enough, especially since Katrina wasn't the worst-case scenario.

A report out this week from one of the engineering teams investigating the levee failures and flooding during Katrina - this one led by the University of California at Berkeley, and funded by Berkeley and the National Science Foundation; this report concludes that much of the damage was not due to the size of the storm. It wasn't the size of the storm that was the problem, but the flaws in the way the levees were designed, built and maintained.

And so for the rest of the hour, we're going to talk about what needs to be done to protect New Orleans from future flooding. Are there lessons here to be learned for places, and from places like the Netherlands and Japan? And it's not just cities in hurricane's way that are vulnerable, because scientists are predicting that rising sea levels, as a result of global warming - think melting glaciers here - could put many coastal areas from Bangladesh to south Florida to Manhattan under water. Can we hold back the sea? Is there technology? How do you put a wall around, let's say, Manhattan or New York Harbor, for example? If you'd like to join our discussion, give us a call. Our number is 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK.

Let me introduce my guests. Robert Bea is a member of the Independent Levee Investigation Team, and a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. He joins us today from the campus. Welcome back to the program.

Dr. ROBERT BEA (Professor of Engineering, University of California at Berkeley): Happy Friday.

FLATOW: Thank you. Ivor Van Heerden is author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina - The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist, out this week from Viking. He is the Director of the Center for Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, and the Deputy Director of the LSU Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He joins us today from his office. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Van Heerden.

Dr. Ivor Van Heerden (Author, The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina): Thank you very much for the invite.

FLATOW: David Daniel is the Chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers, External Review Panel, President of the University of Texas at Dallas. He joins us today from his office. Welcome to the program, Dr. Daniel.

Dr. David Daniel (Chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers): Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to join you.

FLATOW: Bob Bea, you're on the Berkeley NSF Team, and we just have a few minutes before the break. So I want to ask you why did you undertake this study?

Dr. BEA: Well, I think that has several levels. For me, personally, it was almost like a moth to a flame. Our family lost our home in New Orleans in 1965 due to Hurricane Betsy, and you can kind of spin forward to maybe 1995, when we started some research here that was looking at why do engineered systems fail.

FLATOW: Dr. Bea, I'm going to have to stop you because - I shouldn't have let you get started, because we have to take a break. So everybody hang tight. We'll come back. We'll talk more about this study and other issues involving hurricanes this hurricane season. So stay with us, we'll be right back.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR News.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about the hurricane season, and what to do, and a post mortem on the Katrina hurricane from last year, and lessons that we've learned. Our number, 1(800) 989-8255. Bob Bea is here with us. I rudely interrupted him telling us why he and the Berkeley NSF team decided to tackle this issue. Go ahead, Bob. You can - didn't mean to be rude.

Dr. BEA: There wasn't any rudeness at all, Ira. Business is business. Well, as I was saying, there was a personal reason, there was a technical reason for me, and I think that characterizes, by and large, the reasons for all the members of our team. That is they had a heartfelt reason to be there. We knew that there was a lot of pain on the part of the people that were suffering through this catastrophe; and, on the other hand, there were some technical tools we thought we could bring to help understand first, how this happened, and then secondly, how we could perhaps see forward so that would not happen again.

FLATOW: What stands out from your study - you had three major conclusions and critical ingredients to this Hurricane Katrina, and the fact is that the flooding was the result of pre-existing weakness in the city's system, and not from the storm itself.

Dr. BEA: That's correct. We found the system essentially riddled with extremely important and critical flaws and defects, and these things had, not by intent or by some sort of evil force, been embedded in the system. But largely since the 1965 Hurricane Betsy that I referred to, we riddled the system with flaws. And when it was seriously challenged by Hurricane Katrina, we failed.

FLATOW: What kids of flaws are we talking about here?

Dr. BEA: Well, they could be on technology flaws, where we failed to connect the dots properly. It could be where we were focused on the construction of individual projects and losing our sensitivity to the overall flood protection system that needed to be intact there. We had lots of interface or connection breakdowns in the system where we would erode a soft soil levee right next to a higher standing concrete floodwall, where normally you'd want that soil levee higher than the concrete wall, so that when water did overtop the system, we would attack the concrete and not that erodible soil. So many, many breakdowns at these connections, which I think are indicative of a long-term, long incubation period, where we were looking at pieces and not the entire system.

FLATOW: Is it that the specs, you know, as we say in engineering, the specs for the levees were wrong, or they're just not built to the specs?

Dr. BEA: Well, in fact, we found evidence of both. The specifications, by and large, sort of got frozen back in the 1960s period, and, in fact - some, in fact, pre-date the 1960s. That's a way of saying that we were unable to keep pace with the advancement in technology. In other cases, we found clearer evidence where even the specifications were being, you might call it, sidestepped or modified to - in an attempt to work with what we had.


Dr. BEA: So these kinds of things end up embedding flaws.

FLATOW: And it was your conclusion that if everything worked as it should have, if the system had been built as it should have been built, there would not have been a catastrophe?

Dr. BEA: That is exactly right. The way I explain it to my wife and to my friends is, if everything that we had in place there worked as we wanted it to, we would be back repairing some shingles and perhaps mopping up some wet carpets. But by no means would we have the catastrophe that those people are continuing to struggle through.

FLATOW: Yes. Ivor Van Heerden, didn't scientists in New Orleans know what a Katrina-size storm surge could do and create - the havoc?

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: You know, scientists in Louisiana have been warning for over ten years that southeast Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, were super susceptible. And from about 2000 onwards, we've been able to use the ADCIRC surge model to just show how vulnerable that is.


Dr. VAN HEERDEN: So New Orleans was and still is extremely vulnerable to flooding from major hurricanes.

FLATOW: Bob Bea was talking about some of the deficiencies in the way that the levees were created. Can you give us, from your own analysis, what some of them might be like?

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: Well, I think one of the most glaring things is, and Bob referred to this, the use of a standard project hurricane, which was a design hurricane, which dated back to 1959. And even though the Corps had been instructed by the Chief of the Army to use newer definitions, they never did that. So if they had used what they were supposed to, we would've been designing for a Category Four storm, 140 mile an hour winds. So there's the first thing that ends up. With a weaker storm, you don't have to put the levees as high. The second thing, you know, that Bob mentioned, that really stood out to us, was the cost-cutting measures, where the original design memorandums called for very robust T-wall designs, and we ended up with I-walls.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: And then the other thing that stood out was our team looked at the way the Corps had calculated the soil strengths and come up with the designs for the sheet piles and the foundations. And we found a number of errors on the way they did their calculations, and obviously, in other cases, they just didn't get the sheet pile down deep enough.

FLATOW: Hmm. Now that the Corps has rebuilt most - almost all the levees, I'll ask all of you, and I'll ask you first Ivor. Is it ready to withstand another Katrina-size hurricane, or one larger?

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: No. If we had another Katrina, we would se overtopping of levees that aren't high enough. There's still a lot of I-wall and other sections of the levees that are in a weakened state. And as good a job as the Corps has done on the eastern side along the Mississippi River Gulf outlet, those are still unarmored urban levees; they don't have grass. Another Katrina, and the waves will chew them up just as badly as it did in Katrina.

FLATOW: Hmm. David Daniel, you agree?

Dr. DANIEL: Largely, I guess I would say that I agree. And I might just indicate that I chair a 14-person committee that is reviewing the inter-agency performance evaluation team's work, and we have commented on a number of pieces of the work. It's very interesting to me that there's so much in common of what these different groups in different parts of the country are concluding about the engineering and some of the deficiencies. Although there may be some differences in some of the interpretations, we're largely, I think, all saying basically the same thing.

Dr. BEA: If you're all saying…

FLATOW: Yes, go ahead, I'm sorry, Bob.

Dr. BEA: Well, I was going to say amen, David, and (unintelligible). Thanks to you and the team, you've reestablished my faith in our American Society of Civil Engineers. You guys have done a great job.

DANIELS: Well, thank you, and I might just take a moment. There really are several key things that you've heard that we've identified. The first is that no one agency or single entity is in charge. We called it organizational dysfunction, and we know from NASA and other engineering failures that you can't fix engineering - you can't make good engineering when you have organizational discontinuity. No amount of good science and calculations is going to make for an exceptionally sound system of levees and flood protection in New Orleans, unless the organizational issues are addressed.

FLATOW: Now, I know - I know that's sort of a jargon and hard for us to understand. You really want to say something more specific. When you say the organizational problems that could mean for us a lot of things. I know you know what it means. Can you explain in detail what that means? Why wasn't it - what was the problem?

DANIELS: Well, let me just give you - let me just sort of paint the picture, first of all. You've got local levee boards that have certain sets of responsibilities. Local parishes that operate pumps. Cities and state government agencies, federal agencies, The Corps of Engineers itself with multiple agencies, and then Congress providing marching orders and dollars to fuel all this. But the problem is that no one entity has any comprehensive set of authority or responsibility to look at the whole system. That's why it developed piecemeal. Furthermore, if you're a levee designer, you need to make some assumptions about whether trees are going to be allowed to grow on the levees, for example. Trees are a very bad thing on levees during hurricanes because they blow over, they pull out giant root balls and extract huge masses of earth from the levee. That's a very bad thing.

FLATOW: Are there trees growing on levees?

Dr. DANIEL: Yes there are.

Dr. BEA: Yes.

Dr. DANIEL: And if you are a designer for, let's say, the Corps of Engineers you have to make some assumption about whether there are going to be trees there or not. But if you have absolutely no control over that, you know, if you're a really prudent person then you'd probably say, well, my gosh, trees might grow, but then you wind up making the levees so massively wide or you build them out of concrete. A much more rational and sensible approach is for there to be some degree of connectivity between the choices that different entities make and the results that result. And right now we don't have that.

FLATOW: There's still no one decision-making body about what to do?

Dr. DANIEL: No, and the coordination is not nearly as deep as it could be or should be. And I think that, you know, we're a group of scientists and engineers. We don't know how to fix organizations, but we do know when science and engineering based organizations are not functioning to the degree of effectiveness needed, and that's precisely what we have in the New Orleans area at this time.

FLATOW: Well, knowing what you just said, how does that impact the fact that -like Ivor was saying these levees are not high enough and strong enough to withstand another hurricane like Katrina or greater - whose decision is that not to make them higher or bigger?

Dr. DANIEL: Well, first of all, come back to the standard project hurricane. How do you pick how high you will make the levees? The rational person would do some sort of a futuristic forecasting or probabilities and make some selection. For example, we might pick the hundred-year hurricane, although the Netherlands has chosen the ten thousand year hurricane.

There needs to be an informed - a science informed decision process that involves the people of New Orleans and our governmental decision-makers. And thus far, we have not had the science-based facts presented in a way that there could be a rational discussion and decision-making process.


Dr. VAN HEERDEN: Can I jump in from here a minute?

FLATOW: Anytime you'd like to.

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: Well, I think the first thing we have to recognize is that Congress, through 1965 Flood Control Act, directed the Corps of Engineers to build the levees around New Orleans for the most severe meteorological event that could reasonably occur. And so, in many ways, this was a Corps of Engineers led operation.

Now, part of the problem that the Corps of Engineers has is, if you look at its management structure, and I think this is reflected in some of the decisions the Corps makes, every three years we get a new colonel coming through New Orleans.

So it takes him about a year-and-a-half to learn how to pronounce the names in Louisiana, he's just getting his feet on the ground and then he's gone. So most of the decisions are made at middle management levels. And I think that's one of the failings of this whole system is that you've got these people who are in supreme power, in many cases, coming in and going out very, very regularly.

And it's hard to have a long-term project, to take a long-term management approach as you needed here in New Orleans with the levee systems. So the thing is broken in many, many, many places, and we really need to recognize that as we try and move forward and come up with a new system.

FLATOW: Talking about Hurricane Katrina and other - and preparing for the next one on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow with Robert Bea; Ivor van Heerden, author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina - The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist; David Daniel, Chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers' External Review Panel, President of the University of Texas at Dallas.

What can we learn from - hearing what you just said, Ivor, and also everybody -what can we learn from other places where these systems work? Like - you mentioned the Netherlands. What kind of, you know, scientific or what kind of review system do they have to ensure that it works there?

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: Well, I think as David mentioned, you know, having a full accounting of the risks and probabilities enables you to come up with decisions related to levee heights. And, you know, as we go forward here in Louisiana, I'm really encouraging everybody to look at the Netherlands.

When you compare our levees to theirs, you know, it's almost shameful. They've got it right. You know, they've got lots of technique. They've combined hard structures and earthen levees, compartmentalization. They've got some excellent pump technology. You know, we could learn a lot from them.

But the plus that we have in Louisiana that the Netherlands doesn't have is we have our coastal wetlands - what's left of them - we have barrier islands, and we have the sediment of the Mississippi River. So combining, you know, the levees - looking at the Dutch, learning from them, combining the levees with wetlands, with barrier islands, gives us, in essence, a three-tier level of protection.

And if I could just quickly - briefly, the barrier islands protect the wetlands. The wetlands protect the levees, and the levees protect, you know, the homes and infrastructure. And I really hope that we look at the Netherlands and use some of their technology as we move forward.

FLATOW: Can other cities that are in danger now that global warming and ocean levels are rising - can they also learn from the Netherlands and protect their coastlines? I'm thinking of New York; I'm thinking of other cities around the world. Is it possible to actually build in these places gates and floodgates and levees that might hold out the sea?

Dr. BEA: Yes.

Dr. DANIEL: Yeah, I think it is.

FLATOW: Tell us. How would they do that?

Dr. BEA: You go to the places where we've got a potential to bring water into the areas we want to protect, and then, as Ivor was outlining, you look first to nature by understanding that you need to respect and engineer with nature not against or contrary to.

And at that point you start to say, well, where can I defend first? In essence, in this context, the water is the enemy and we need to find out how to slow it down, number one; and number two, when it starts to get out of hand, we need to be able to control the water levels and the wave action.

So gates in some places are things we want to think about, levees are, pumps are, evacuation techniques are, water ponding are. So there's a wide variety, a wide arsenal, of things that we have at our disposal to not only help areas like New Orleans, but other areas that have important deltas around the United States and, of course, many of the coastal areas that will be - we'll call it stressed, by things like rising sea levels.

FLATOW: We're going to have to take a short break. We'll come back and talk lots more with my guests Ivor van Heerden, David Daniel, Robert Bea. And you're phone calls. Talking about keeping the sea back. If we have to, what cases can we not? We may have to let them go. So stay with us, we'll be right back after this short break.

I'm Ira Flatow and this is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about hurricanes, levees, and ways to protect cities with my guests Ivor van Heerden, author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina, the inside story from one Louisiana scientist, out this week from Viking. He's also Director for the study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes and Deputy Director, LSU Hurricane Center at LSU in Baton Rouge. David Daniel, Chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers' External Review Panel, President of the University of Texas at Dallas. Robert Bea, member of the Independent Levee Investigation Team, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at U.C. Berkeley. Our number 1-800-989-8255.

Considering that there are these that we mentioned that need to be protected during increased hurricane ferocity and ocean rising, wouldn't this be a good time, gentlemen, for cities to start thinking about a project that could take 50, 100 years?

Dr. BEA: That is exactly right. We need to make prevention the number one on our list. You know, it's going to take a long time to get ahead of the problem in a sensible way. I think the other thing that we need to recognize is when to give up. That's a way to say that in some cases we need to surrender back to the coastal areas and back to other river areas what it is that we should not be protecting; or another way to let nature do its job.

So there's some hard decisions that have to come forward, and it's going to take a significant amount of time to mobilize the works, get them into place. But I think the key is first to recognize that we need to get ahead of flooding. It is, to my knowledge, the single most devastating and damaging thing to the people of the United States that we have to suffer within our confines; and with all of the technology that we have and I think we know how to start thinking about how to approach it.

So the problem is not the way. The problem is the will and the focus on prevention in, in this case, flooding.

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: I think one way to look at it is, New Orleans could be the test bed for the rest of the coastal portions of the U.S., and probably elsewhere in the world. You know, the Dutch have achieved it; sixty-percent of their country's below sea level. Dealing with the soft soils of New Orleans, its unique geomorphology and the fact that we've got these wetlands that could be a real part of the protection, you know, we could learn a lot as we try and sort this out that could be applicable elsewhere.

Dr. DANIEL: I would agree with that. And I think one of the lessons learned is that in critical life safety issues like this, where infrequent but catastrophic events occur, like a major earthquake, we tend to forget as time passes. And history has also taught us that to make it work you have to create very systematic rigorous practices for continually assessing life safety.

For example, in large dams - earthen and concrete dams - where failure would be catastrophic, we have federal programs in place to periodically inspect and reevaluate the safety of those structures. We have to be in this for the long run or we won't succeed.

FLATOW: Let's go to Malcolm(ph) in Grants Pass, Oregon. Hi, Malcolm. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

MALCOLM (Caller): Well, good morning, gentlemen. I'm glad you brought this subject up. It's very important. I have a question, but I'd like to preface it by saying I used to work for the geological survey and the Forest Service, and one of my responsibilities was designing culverts for road - you know, creeks going under roads and what not, and we designed them to be able to pass, theoretically, a one-hundred-year flood.

Now, that's fine if a culvert washes out, you got and put a new culvert in and cover it with more dirt, but to protect a city like New Orleans with only a one-hundred-year flood protection seems really, really weak to me. And I wonder - my question is, what would the relative cost be to build levees that would protect New Orleans against a 500 or 1, 000 or 10,000-year flood, compared to rebuilding the city again? And I'll take my answer off the air.

FLATOW: Ok. Thanks for calling.

Dr. BEA: You want me to pick up Malcolm's question?

FLATOW: Sure. Go ahead. Absolutely. Good question.

Dr. BEA: Good question, Malcolm. I think the answer is the conditions that we've been designing New Orleans for are way under the mark. There's a vast, I'll call it armada, of structures that we have founded around the world in the deep ocean, and I'll refer to the wonderful world of offshore structures.

Those structures are designed to resist conditions at their ultimate limit state, when they fail. So, in essence, we've got water coming - not only through but over your culvert - that are in the range of the 10,000 year return periods that Ivor was talking about before.

So for number one, we need to sort of push into gear current technology and current thinking about how to manage risk. And that says, well, we've got to change from this thinking about the 100-year thing to starting to think about these more, we'll call it obscure, less probable, events that nonetheless happen. And when they do, they're catastrophic.

Now that also says that we can't use brute force and ignorance to kind of stand up against these things. Things like defenses and depth and robustness or damage and defect tolerance have got to show up in the system, as well. So not only have we got to have a pipe big enough to get the water through, we've got to be able to defend the road, because that's what the culvert is trying to do.

FLATOW: And how would, in terms of hurricane protection, how would you, in concrete terms, how would you translate that?

Dr. BEA: Well, I think Ivor was started down that track when he said, well -and, in fact, I gave this problem to my class that works on risk management. We looked at New Orleans and came to the conclusion that, based on economics and standards of practice and historic precedent like the New Orleans - or pardon me, like the Netherlands - that we would need to go for a 10,000-year level of protection in most areas. It could be 1,000 in other areas, depending on what we were protecting.

The next step we took was, well, how do we do that? And, at this point, we started thinking about big levees, and levee heights of 40 or 50 feet started to show up. And, at this point, you say, hey, this isn't sustainable. If you try and pile up something like this in a permanent works, with subsidence and settlement, you can expect it to go down. So, at that point, we had to abandon the traditional, what I call brute force approach, and start thinking about defenses in depth.

And here's where Ivor said, well, let's start tripping the ocean out there at those barrier beaches. Slow her down; then let's use those wetlands to help absorb some of the turbulence and energy out of the water. And then - and that's been called, by the way, many times, horizontal levees - and then, by the time we get to the perimeters we're trying to defend - this third level -we've now got earthen levees, and in some cases, indeed, gates, where we can stop the water from getting into areas around New Orleans like Pontchartrain and Lake Bourne.

And, at that point, you say, well even then I've got to have pump stations to get water out of these low-lying areas. What you're doing is you're developing a system, and the system is one that starts with nature - so uses the natural defenses and then compliments nature with engineered works, so that we have a system in place that is environmentally friendly and very, very, importantly, we can afford it and sustain it.

So I think we're learning again, it's not the ways that are the devil here, it's the will to go and do it.

Dr. DANIEL: I'd - Bob, I would just add - that was beautifully described. I would just add that we are where we are because things developed piecemeal. It was never a comprehensively thought through as a system.

I think it would be a huge mistake to assume a priori that it would be economically infeasible to provide a reasonable level of protection to the New Orleans area. But I think in providing that protection, just as you described, we need a much more comprehensive systems-oriented approach. You can't think of it just in terms of, well let's build today's levees higher and that will solve the problem.

Dr. BEA: Amen, brother.

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: Yeah, I think you both hit the nail on the head. In fact, in my book I try and put a conceptual plan together that looks at this, how we can maximize getting the sediment out of the Mississippi River to build the wetlands, how we can go offshore and mine the sand to build the barrier islands, and then we are - there's no question about it - we are going to have to retreat from parts of Louisiana. There's some communities that are just too vulnerable; they're too small and near the coast.

The other thing that's very important is some of the artificial levees that protect us from river floods, and especially on the lower parts of the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, actually exacerbate that storm surge with storms like Katrina. So we may well want to, as we move forward, recognize we're going to have to bend in some communities and we're going to have to degrade some of these large river flood control levees.

But it's that systems approach, and in the past we've looked at coastal wetland as one issue in Louisiana, levees as another issue, and never did the twain meet. Now we have to do this all as one.

FLATOW: What other cities around the country have to do this planning about whether, you know, where do you move the defenses? Like a general, what can we defend properly, and what is just too sparse and pulled apart and low-lying -what places do we have to abandon? I mean there...

Dr. BEA: That needs to be looked at very seriously. I've talked with a lot of people in southern Louisiana that, in fact, inhabit the bayous and areas down south of New Orleans into Plaquemines Parish. Those people are smart. I mean, they know that putting a levee around them is not the protection that, in fact, is sensible, and hence they are thinking about elevated homes and, in some cases, they're even thinking about disposable homes.


Dr. BEA: So sensibility, I think, is the way to go. Now, one of the things that I would hasten to add - needs to be appended to this word system that we're talking about. It's something we address in our report in depth, and that's called the technology delivery system. So that, in addition to worrying about levees and wetlands and barrier beaches, this technology delivery system that struggles to unite, number one, the public, the people that we're here to protect and to serve, then brings in the focus - the government that is supposed to be representing our people, and we'll call it making wise and good decisions about the allocation of our resources; and number three, the very, very important one in the middle of all of this called industry and commerce.

And ultimately, we think that not only nature first and engineering second, but the mobilization of the technology delivery system becomes absolutely critical. If you get these two things together, and perhaps focusing on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a servant to that technology delivery system, we can start to draw into reasonable focus how to accomplish what looks to be impossible.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. BEA: So I think the secret to a long-term flood defense system is a comparable, long-term technology delivery system.

FLATOW: We're talking about preparing for floods and hurricanes in this coming century on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

But shouldn't cities and - or places like the Florida Keys and other low-lying places, shouldn't they be saying to themselves, hey, you know, we just missed what they had. We could be in the same situation this year.

Dr. BEA: You're exactly right, Ira. I used to work down in Key West. Spent a lot of my life down around Miami and a lot of love and knowledge for that area we call Florida; similarly over into Alabama, Mississippi. I spent most of my life around and in the water. All of those places need to - we'll call it feel the pangs of pain that the people in southern Louisiana have felt, as a - we'll call it, early forewarning of what can happen when you turn your back on the sea. So I think it's time to turn our face towards the sea, take sensible action to defend ourselves, and, as we've noted, know when to surrender; and also, by the way, when to preserve.

There's a lot of our coastal areas are, by the way, are river rain areas that need to have respect given to them. So that, in some cases, we want the flooding to happen so that we can preserve the wetlands, preserve the breeding grounds for waterfowl and the marine life that is a part of our life.

And so there is a major issue that, in fact, this painful experience can help serve the rest of the people of the United States. And I'd dearly love to see us stand proud at the end of this experience.

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: You know, one other issue that enters into this is perhaps the regulatory issue, in that if, in many cases, and I'm just going to pick on one - building on barrier islands - you know, anybody that builds in the barrier islands is going to be a sitting duck for a hurricane at some point in time. And we may have to recognize that we may have to strengthen regulations, in terms of where we can develop and where we can't develop. You know, from building in flood plains to barrier islands to perhaps some other locations where we're expanding our urban areas.

So it's a very complicated issue, but it's something that we, in the U.S., can readily handle. We've got the expertise, we've got the technology; there's a lot of this research going on at a number of different institutions and universities. But we've got to get it under an umbrella organization that can look at all aspects and be cognizant of every little issue as it goes forward with its planning and ultimate construction.

FLATOW: Hmm. Last words - David Daniel?

Dr. DANIEL: Well, I would just add that there's an enormous amount of science and technology capacity and capability available, and it has not yet manifested itself in a protection system for the citizens of the New Orleans area that's at a level consistent with the best in the world, such as the Netherlands.

We have the capacity and capability to do so much better, but we're going to have to have the will, we're going to have to have informed people, and I think we're going to have to have a commitment. And if we do all that, there's just every reason to believe - just as Bob had suggested - that we will come out of this with a much better system than we have now. But we've got to bring these forces of technology and public policy decisions together.

FLATOW: David Daniel, thank you very much. He's Chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers External Review Panel.

Robert Bea, member of the Independent Levee Investigation Team and Professor of civil and environmental engineering, University of California-Berkeley.

Ivor van Heerden, author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Way During Hurricane Katrina, the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist, out this week from Viking. Very good read, I suggest you get a copy.

Thank you all for joining us this hour.

Dr. BEA: Thank you.

Dr. VAN HEERDEN: No problem

Dr. DANIEL: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

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