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The Joys of Art

Friday, March 17, 2006

America's Wetland

America's Wetland

Brown Ignored Disaster Plan, New Report Says

(Right click on link then click "save target as" to save as a mp3 file)
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; Page A03

Michael D. Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, deliberately ignored a new national disaster plan and circumvented his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in trying to manage the federal response to Hurricane Katrina directly with the White House, according to a new House report.

By disregarding the National Response Plan, finished in 2004, Brown deprived "the nation of an opportunity to determine whether the NRP worked," the House investigation concludes in an addendum to its Feb. 15 report, "A Failure of Initiative," scheduled for release today.

Hurricane Katrina brought unprecedented destruction to the Gulf Coast. View the Post's multimedia coverage of the disaster. (Reuters)

The all-Republican panel, led by Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), prepared the supplement after issuing a subpoena and obtaining Brown's sworn deposition Feb. 11, too late to publish in its scathing 520-page study.

By attributing numerous failings to Brown, the new House report obtained by The Washington Post refocuses an unflattering spotlight on the former Bush political loyalist and on the White House. Though he resigned under fire for his handling of the hurricane response, Brown's image was rehabilitated somewhat in videos leaked this month that showed him imploring the government to gear up for Katrina and emphatically warning the White House.

But the House reported that Brown "virtually boasted" that he avoided communicating with Chertoff -- then in office about six months -- "and called directly on the White House for assistance instead." Brown opposed or never advised the new secretary to take steps under the response plan, such as declaring an "incident of national significance," activating a Catastrophic Incident Annex to speed federal aid, convening an expert Interagency Incident Management Group or naming a principal federal officer in charge, the report said.

"We'll need to keep that in mind as Congress considers its post-Katrina agenda," Davis said in a statement. "FEMA needs serious work, but the NRP might not."

The additional report comes as House committees debate post-storm homeland security changes and a separate Senate investigation wraps up its work. The Bush administration also has issued a report with 125 recommendations.

Among other issues, the House report noted, "Brown's communications with the White House . . . raise serious questions about when and how the White House becomes involved in disaster response."

Yesterday, Senate investigation chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) denied a request by ranking member Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) to subpoena documents and testimony from Bush aides.

"Virtually everyone in the White House who had anything of operational significance to do with" Katrina has been "put off limits," he wrote. "This has left us unable to obtain any real sense of what the White House did or didn't do."

Lieberman said a Congressional Research Service review found 75 cases in which top presidential aides -- including chiefs of staff, White House counsels and National Security advisers -- testified to legislative investigators since 1926.

Collins called Lieberman's request "neither warranted nor appropriate," because it could deprive presidents of candid advice and violate executive privilege. She said aides have provided three briefings and 23,300 pages of documents.

I don't get....Hello Maine!!! Please vote that feeble sounding woman (Senator Collins) out of office!!! She'll never be as articulate as Senator Landrieu.... You need much prayer Senator Susan Collins!!!!

Senator Susan Collins and Katrina

Sigh.....Some people don't even need to be a member of congress.....I oughta start keep a running tab.....I know....I know...More mere "coinky dinks"....President Bush is the most uninformed (even misinformed) president in the history of the presidency!!!!! Back when I was in the military We created a fictional organization called NAPWAS....It stands for National Association of People Who Aint' Shit.....And when people showed their ass and proved to us that they weren't shit we then put their names on the dry-erase board.....Senator Collins your name most definitely would be there....She looks about 59 (years old) but she sounds like she is 99 (years old)....Lawd!!!! Where does Congress dig up these folks?!!! I demand a Congressional investigation into this immediately!!! That mortuary needs to be shut down!!!

Levee weakness should not have been "unforeseen"

By Bob Marshall
Staff writer

The key to learning why the 17th Street canal floodwall failed during Hurricane Katrina may lie more in what designers didn't do, than in what they could have foreseen, experts now say.

Lost in the controversy swirling around a government panel's comment last week that the designers of the floodwall could not have anticipated the combination of forces that brought the structure down was its finding that one of the main triggers for that failure - extremely low soil strengths under the toe of the levee - would have been detected had the design team done soil borings in that area, an official with the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday.

Had the weakness at the toe of the levee been included in the analysis system used by the project designers, "The factor of safety would have been (low enough) to where they would have changed the design," said Reed Mosher, a researcher at the corps' Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., and a member of the corps-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force that is investigating the failures. The options considered would probably have included a T-wall, or a much larger levee, he said.

The task force said rising water pushed the wall away from the canal, eventually creating a crack, separating the wall from the canal-side levee. Water pressure building inside the crack began pushing down on soil layers under the wall, which required support from the levee on the land side of the canal and the soils adjacent to it. The weak soils beneath the toe of the levee couldn't stand up to the rising pressure and began slipping, bringing the levee and the floodwall down.

Review team members said the designers did "few if any" soil borings at the toe of the levee, a finding John Greishaber, acting chief of the engineering division at the corps New Orleans district, said was not normal. He said his office normally required designers to take borings at the center line as well as at the toe of levees.

"This is the preferred method," he said. "There are items when this is not done. You have to get into specifics (for each case) as to why it is not."

Greishaber said when borings aren't made, engineers can estimate the soil strengths at the toe of a levee.

Engineers use a standard formula for estimating the soil strengths at the toe based on the known strength of soils at the center line of the levee, where the soil strengths are highest. That means soil borings at the toe usually aren't necessary unless the center line values are below a certain threshold, task force members said.

And that is where the designers made obvious mistakes, said J. David Rogers, a professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla who is a leading expert on levee failures and a member of a National Science Foundation investigation into the disaster.

"Looking at their calculations on the slope stability analysis, they used the same high figure from the center of the levee and projected it out to the toe, without any diminution in value," Rogers said. "That was one of the first things we picked up when we started working on this.

"When we tried to find out what factor they used for diminution with increasing distance from the toe, it didn't appear they used any. They were using maximum strength all the way to the toe. That's the part everyone will take issue with."

More surprising, Rogers said, is the fact that obvious mistake was missed by the corps in New Orleans, as well as its superiors in Vicksburg.

"I can't explain how this went through," he said.

Although the quality of the engineering done by local firms and reviewed by the corps has been the focus of scrutiny since shortly after the walls collapsed, it was pushed from the headlines last week when the task force released an interim report identifying how the walls collapsed and saying the combination of forces responsible could not have been anticipated by the project designers. That provoked criticism from independent investigators.

But this week Ed Link, Project Director for the task force, said his panel's statements had been misconstrued by the media.

"Our position on this is that, very simply, whoever did the design just did not consider this particular mechanism," said Link, the University of Maryland Senior Fellow who is head of the corps-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force. "We, IPET, made no value judgment whether it should have been considered or could have been considered.

"If that was inferred by our comments, it was inaccurate."

Link, added that the corps has made no attempt to interfere or steer the investigation by the panel, which lists more than 150 members from academia, private industry and other state and federal agencies.

"The only pressure the corps has put on us is to find out what has happened and put it in the public domain," he said. "I'm telling you as an engineer, as a professional, I would not work in this environment if I felt there was anything political or adverse pressure on what we are doing."

The executive summary of the task force report, which Link said he wrote without input from the corps, said "this failure mechanism was not anticipated by the design criteria used."

When task force panelists and corps engineers were asked if that meant the design systems used by the engineers of the day could not have foreseen this type of failure, they answered "yes."

Link said that while the individual components of the failure are well documented as concerns for engineers doing stability analysis of levees and floodwalls, the combination of those factors coming together at the same time is not. He also said methods of analysis used by engineers at the time would not have included all those factors in testing a design for stability.

Task force panelists at the press conference also said a "search of the literature" turned up no examples of this specific failure mechanism.

Those claims were quickly challenged by members of the engineering community. Most notably Ray Seed and Bob Bea, University of California-Berkeley professors and members of the National Science Foundation team investigating the levee failues, issued a response calling the task force statements "unfortunate" and inaccurate. They called attention to a 1986 report done by the corps, known as the E-99 report, that showed the separation - "tension cracking" - of the wall as well as the build-up of high pressure at the based of the floodwall after the cracking.

They also cited two 1997 papers published in an industry journal analyzing the 1986 test. One of papers' authors was Mosher, who is a member of the task force.

Link said Thursday that his reference to the "literature" meant a review of the corps engineering manuals, which design teams are required to use.

"We were looking at the design criteria to see if there was a process like this described in the corps' design manuals that (the design team) missed," he said. "We didn't see anything that described this mechanism, that would have alerted (the design team) to look for this when doing their analysis."

Link and Mosher disagreed with Bea and Seed's analysis of the importance of the 1986 study. Mosher, who analyzed the E-99 report , said it was not designed to look at levee stability, but at how much a sheet pile "moved at the top as water increased."

The fact that the test also showed there was evidence of tension cracking and high pressure at the toe of the wall was not given much attention at the time, Mosher said, "because the study was not designed to look at the stability of the levee." He also said the evidence of cracking and increased pressure was minimal.

Mosher said Katrina has made the report important today.

"When I go back now and look at E-99 knowing the others pieces of information about the 17th Street failure, I can make a better interpretation of what's in E-99," he said. "Now I can say I understand how all this relates."

Mosher and Link said the lessons learned from the investigation already are being put to work.

"We're going back and doing borings at the toes of the levees in the system anywhere we think this failure mechanism might be present," he said. "We're already doing reevaluations of the stability analysis done by the (original design teams).

"Now that we know what to look for, we're out there looking for it."

Bob Marshall can be reached at rmarshall@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3539.


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