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COMMENTARY: New Orleans' new storm protection system outstanding


Storm mitigation efforts outstanding

A few months back, I was given the opportunity to participate in a pretty amazing event—a tour of the new Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.

I wrote about the tour and the new system in last week's issue of Business Insurance, and if you haven't had a chance to read it you can find it and a photo gallery of some of the risk reduction system's features at

The tour was a remarkable experience. Among other things, the sheer scale of some of the features—the pumping station at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex, for example, the largest drainage pump station in the world and capable of filling an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than five seconds—was overwhelming.

As stunning as the physical scale of the new storm risk reduction features was, however, I was equally impressed by discussions of the science and engineering that went into planning the elements of the 133-mile system designed to protect the Greater New Orleans perimeter from a 100-year storm.

Talking with Michael F. Park—chief of Task Force Hope in Louisiana, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi Valley Division—who oversees the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System work and the long-term planning of coastal restoration and hurricane damage reduction in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana, he offered a clear understanding of just what was involved in designing the $14.6 billion system's components.

The research behind the system included modeling 152 storms—some actual, some theoretical—ranging from a 25-year event to a 5,000-year event. Monte Carlo simulations to assess probabilities were conducted, involving 350 features of the perimeter against myriad storm tracks. Designers also considered such factors as subsidence in southern Louisiana and the effects of climate change and sea level rise to ensure that the system's hard features will be viable through at least 2057.

Of course, as no lesser sages than Blue Öyster Cult once noted, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men,” and Mr. Park made a point of distinguishing between “protection” and “risk reduction.”

“We're not providing flood protection,” he said. “We're providing flood risk reduction.”

So, as confident as he is in the storm risk reduction system the Corps of Engineers is providing New Orleans, Mr. Park knows you can't eliminate risk. Beyond the perimeter protection, there remains a role for insurance, zoning and building codes, coastal protection and restoration and—likely still—evacuations in the face of certain storms.

“You can still be overwhelmed by something that exceeds what you've designed,” he said.

But it sure looks like the system the Corps designed should go a long way toward reducing New Orleans' future risk.