Making the Most of Disaster: From Forensic Investigations and Research to Changes in Policy and Practice: CEE Spring Distinguished Lecture

Lecture | March 16 | 5-6 p.m. | Sutardja Dai Hall, Banatao Auditorium

 Raymond Seed, Civil & Environmental Engineering

 Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE)

The disastrous flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 laid bare the effects of more than five decades of neglect with regard both policy and funding for U.S. levees and flood protection systems. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina’s arrival, the American Society of Civil Engineers “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” rated flood protection as one of the two worst elements of U.S. infrastructure, with a grade of “D-”. Egregious disasters are a costly way to learn. But they also represent important opportunities not only for learning, but also for effecting much needed changes in both policies and practice. Forensic investigation, targeted research, the inception of the new U.S. National Levee Safety Program (currently projected to last multiple decades and to require more than $100 billion), the massive California Central Valley Levee Program (CVLP) which served as a test-bed for the evolving national efforts, and ongoing changes in national policies and engineering design standards and protocols all represent beneficial outfalls from the original disaster. These will lead to important improvements in public safety throughout all 50 states, and they are expected to be emulated in other countries as well. It is never pleasant nor easy to investigate major disasters, but once a disaster has occurred, the most important thing that we can do is to optimize the resulting opportunities to ensure that similar disasters are less likely to occur in the future.