In looking at the reports from New Orleans, I really have to ask if the catastrophic flooding of the city was inevitable, or whether it resulted from poor planning. It seems to me that technology exists that would have prevented the massive flooding we are currently seeing. Why wasn’t this technology used?
First, there appears to have been little preparation for the rapid repair of the levees. Several technologies exist for creating or repairing dikes on the fly. For example, oil companies use a type of hollow cement barge that can be floated into place and then sunk. They use them to create islands in swampy areas on which to place drilling equipment. They can also be used to create or repair broken levees. Why wasn’t such equipment pre-positioned on Lake Pontchartrain on barges so that it could be rushed to the levee breaks? By comparison, dropping sand bags from helicopters seems rather ad hoc.
An even worse oversight, however, seems to be the pumps that must function even in ordinary circumstances in order to keep the city dry. New Orleans sits below all the surrounding water and has absolutely no natural drainage at all. Without the pumps, even normal rainfall will flood the city. Yet the pumps all seem to have worked off the regular electrical grid with little or no local backup power. Once Katrina and the flooding knocked the power grid offline, the pumps went down. Even after they repaired the levees, without the pumps the water will just sit inside the city. The pumping system should have had backup power. Probably the best system would have been to run them off natural gas and to have created storage tanks near the pumps in case the gas lines failed.
I think the people of New Orleans and Louisiana need to ask hard questions about the level of technological preparations. It looks to me that more aggressive planning could have prevented the worst of the flooding.