Army Corps takes steps to fix shortcomings exposed by Katrina

The Army's Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, on Thursday announced that the Corps would take a dozen specific actions to transform the way it sets priorities and does business.

The actions constitute the agency's "institutional response" to failures brought to light following Hurricane Katrina, he said. The plan stems from the Corps-commissioned Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force and other reviews of the agency's performance both before and after the hurricane made landfall.

Among the most significant changes will be a more rigorous focus on risk analysis in both project design and construction, and a more comprehensive effort to communicate that risk to the public and other stakeholders.

"Risk has always been an element of our planning, but it clearly needs increased emphasis in how we do our work," Strock said. "Today the major driving points for recommending projects are economic justification, engineering feasibility and environmental acceptability."

Additionally, the Corps will make far greater use of independent reviews throughout the life of projects, from design through construction and continued maintenance. Until now, independent reviews typically took place during the design phase.

"What this does is it lets everyone in the Corps of Engineers know that independent review is necessary and it's got to be an ongoing thing, not just a one-time review," Strock said.

The 12-point plan reflects the fact that not all the problems exposed by Katrina were engineering mistakes. The incompleteness of the levee system, inconsistencies in levels of protection and lack of redundancy all contributed.

"While the Corps is not responsible for levees we did not build, or for lack of funding for recommendations we made that were not funded, we do have accountability for our own design shortcomings, and we should have done more to inspect and reassess the condition of the levees and to communicate with the people of New Orleans," Strock said.

"Not a day goes by that I do not reflect on the tragic loss of life and property as a result of this devastating storm," he said.

The 12 actions are:

  • Employ integrated, comprehensive and systems-based approaches to Corps projects.
  • Apply risk-based concepts in planning, design, construction, operations and major maintenance.
  • Continuously reassess and update policy for program development, planning guidance, design and construction standards.
  • Use dynamic independent review.
  • Use adaptive planning and engineering systems.
  • Focus on sustainability.
  • Review and inspect completed works.
  • Assess and modify organizational behavior.
  • Effectively communicate risk.
  • Establish public involvement in risk-reduction strategies.
  • Manage and enhance technical expertise and professionalism.
  • Invest in research.
When asked what difference these steps might have made to the residents of New Orleans had they been in place prior to Hurricane Katrina, Strock said, "I would hope that with this focus on risk communication we would have made very sure that people understood the risks involved. It's my impression that many of those who did not evacuate… chose not to because they didn't understand the risk that they faced.

"Now I think people have a very good sense of what the risk is down there. I believe that if a call for evacuation goes out tomorrow, it would be heeded by the vast majority of people," he said.

Since last fall, the Corps has restored the levee system in New Orleans to pre-Katrina levels or better, Strock said.

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