Nowhere in all of the media attention on the tragedies in the Gulf region, especially New Orleans, can you find anything about the engineering issues central to it all. The way these two hurricanes have been followed by the hordes of reporters has left us with images of thousands of people out of hope. Yet, wouldn't it be better for all of us to have become more educated about the technical and engineering issues before we send trucks of reporters and money into the area?
The media has covered this double tragedy from numerous angles, asking: "Who's at Fault?" "How Much Money Will It Take to Rebuild?" "Why Weren't We Prepared?" "Is It Climate Change?"
Answers are equally abundant, including: "The President Doesn't Care About Poor and Black People." "Maybe $200 Billion!" "Global Warming is the Cause." "God Doesn't Like Gambling."
Americans now know all kinds of things about hurricanes, floods, levees and the personal tragedies of thousands of unfortunate people throughout the region. They know all kinds of things about numerous politicians and have watched hours of really awful suffering. What we haven't seen much are people who are truly expert in the engineering solutions that could have avoided much of the disastrous flooding that caused so much of the human and property losses.
Yes, there are experts on the now-controversial issue of New Orleans being 6 to 10 feet below sea level. Trouble is the media isn't all that interested in "boring" topics like civil and hydrological engineering, and the latest in flood control. Many of these experts are from other countries like the Dutch team that flew to the Gulf shortly after Katrina slammed into Louisiana. The Dutch Transport and Water Affairs Ministry sent pumping experts to Pointe a la Hache, just south of New Orleans to help get rid of the water.
The failures of the levees and the general flooding in the region are engineering failures. It seems to me that the people to ask for advice on rebuilding New Orleans and protecting it and the region from further disasters are the engineering specialists who have studied and done the kind of work elsewhere that needs to be done in the Gulf region. People like professor Joannes Westerink, from the civil engineering department of the University of Notre Dame. In an article in The Wall Street Journal, in response to a question about the nowdropped Army Corps of Engineers' plan for a hurricane barrier to hold back storm surges on Lake Pontchartrain with gates like the huge ones in Holland, Westerink said such an approach would be "an effective barrier."
What do you think? What would you suggest for the rebuilding of New Orleans? A Dutch-style barrier? Higher levees?
I believe the challenge here is an engineering matter and I hope you can send in your ideas. Meanwhile, let's hope the media and our political leaders start investigating the technology solutions and help the American people understand how we can avoid such disasters in the future.
The people to ask for advice on rebuilding New Orleans and protecting it and the region from further disasters are the engineering specialists who have studied and done the kind of work elsewhere.