Katrina: lessons learned from the storm

Experts reflect on past challenges and the work ahead to protect New Orleans

It’s been a decade since Katrina changed the way scientists and citizens will forever look at the impact of storm surge. Despite billions of dollars in investments and technical advancements, the city is still vulnerable.

On this week’s special "TechKnow" Investigates Katrina, Phil Torres and Marita Davison uncover what improvements have been made from a technological, environmental, and social perspective to protect and preserve The Big Easy. The consensus amongst the array of experts is that the city is safer than ten years ago, but now is not the time to be complacent about improvements.

"TechKnow"’s experts examine where New Orleans is now and what else still needs to be done.

Mike Park, Chief Operating Officer for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans

Mike Park is the Chief of Operations for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans. He is in charge of installing a new storm risk reduction system that is still one year away from completion. It will include 133 miles of levees, flood walls, surge barriers, and pumping stations.

“I would say that New Orleans has much more robust defenses than it did ten years ago, unquestionably.”

John Lopez of the MRGO Must Go Coalition

John Lopez, PH.D.  is a member of the MRGO Must Go Coalition and a coastal biologist who consulted for the Army Corps of Engineers. MRGO refers to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet: a shipping channel that cut through wetlands and acted as a surge superhighway pushing large amounts of water from the Gulf into the city of New Orleans during Katrina.

“Our big takeway in this Katrina anniversary is that a lot of things have been done, and New Orleans is on a good track towards sustainability but the job is not done here.”

TechKnow contributor Marita Davison and civil engineer Jane McKee Smith at the U.S. Army Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory

Jane McKee Smith is a Research Hydraulic Engineer at the Army Corps of Engineers. She has been studying the coastline of Louisiana since Katrina and the exact impact that coastal vegetation has on storm surge.

“There’s a lot of effort ongoing now to restore wetlands because that will help to dissipate not only the waves, but it will also attenuate the surge.”

TechKnow host Phil Torres speaks with John Taylor at his home

John Taylor is the Wetlands Specialist for the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. He is known as Mr. Bayou because for years before Katrina he was speaking out about the importance of reviving the cypress swamps in the Lower Ninth Ward.

“What Katrina did is…it brought the eye to what’s happening when you destroy things… If we don’t repair things that protect us in eighty years, the city of New Orleans will be under water.”

Professor Christopher Ruf in front of a hurricane tracking animation

Professor Christopher Ruf Ph.D. is a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Michigan. He was inspired by Katrina to create a more accurate predictor of storm surge using satellite technology. The system known as CYGNSS is set to launch on a NASA mission in October of 2016.

“I think there’s an… important  psychological aspect with improved forecasting and that is when forecasts are wrong people tend not to trust them as much. If forecasts are reliable…they are much more likely to listen when there’s an emergency.”

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