Special Report: Disaster prevention, mitigation, and avoidance

February 2006 » Feature Articles
Following closely on the heels of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the early November 2005 Land Development Conference & Expo in Phoenix offered a timely venue to discuss civil engineering and land development issues.

Roundtable participants offer their perspectives on civil engineers’ and land developers’ roles in preparing for disasters.

Following closely on the heels of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the early November 2005 Land Development Conference & Expo in Phoenix offered a timely venue to discuss civil engineering and land development issues related to disaster prevention, mitigation and avoidance. Five professionals, representing various disciplines within the public and private sectors (see "Roundtable participants" below), accepted invitations from CE News to participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic.

Drake: During the past year, we’ve seen the consequences of various natural disasters, including a tsunami, landslides, wild fires, and, of course, the recent hurricanes. What role can or should land development professionals play in emergency preparedness in disaster-prone areas?

Novacek: One of the things that land development professionals can help with is providing mechanisms or a plan under which potential disasters are mitigated down and don’t have as strong an impact. Out here in the West, in particular, we’re worried about wild fires more than some of the other disasters. There are design features and approaches that can be taken to help minimize the impacts fires can have, from landscaping design to the subdivision design layout to the infrastructure design. We can provide assistance for firefighting methods, [such as] fire breaks. Similar things can [help] in some of the other disasters also.

Kinkade-Levario: We need to go further than that and go into the planning. Make sure that we’re not allowing developers to build in areas in which they shouldn’t build. At least educate them and tell them areas that we, as professionals, don’t think should be developed or [that] they need to investigate further before they develop it.

Elliott: From the government’s side of things, we have a general plan that has zoning [that indicates] where we can put commercial buildings or housing. And the general plan also has a seismic map that shows fault lines. It maps out where you can put a building—if it should stay 100 feet away [from a fault] or what the setback should be. Also, for flooding we have FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the FIRM map (Flood Insurance Rate Map). We require developers and engineers to maintain a base flood elevation plus 1 foot. So, if they are [building] in [an area with] a flood elevation of 6 feet, their finished floor has to be at 7 feet.

Martella: Several years ago, we foresaw the eventual creeping of security and emergency management into the regulatory requirements for building codes, land development, and zoning. Recently, we’ve been asked to sit on a state advisory board to develop and implement some of these recommendations that have since been incorporated into the state building codes.
It’s no different than Love Canal eventually producing environmental regulations or the energy crisis in the 1970s producing building code requirements for energy management. We see this eventually happening for emergency management. If it should come to fruition throughout the country, you will need to have land developers get involved with emergency preparedness for their developments. It will probably need to be prepared in accordance with the overall state plan. We’re talking more about evacuation or mitigating the site or whatever other requirements are going to be dictated by the state regulations.

Novacek: One of the issues on the public policy side is the cost. What is the public willing to pay for and adopt to allow this to happen? For example, if you have a roadway system on which you need to make traffic flow in the opposite direction than normal, what provisions are you going to design and build into that system to allow that to happen quickly, rather than losing time by having to clear out whole sections [of highway]?
Some pictures in the newspaper of the freeways coming out of Houston showed six empty lanes on one side and bumper-to-bumper [traffic] on the other. The reason they were having difficulties is they have to make sure that all the traffic is off and all of the freeway exits and entrances are blocked so that somebody doesn’t get into an accident. In Wyoming, they have automated gates that come across the interstates and close them off [during] blizzards so they don’t strand travelers. Agencies are automating a lot of systems now, but that has a cost. And, that has to be an acceptable cost to the public.
Also on the public policy side, what can be done from a security standpoint and what’s acceptable? Is something that could be viewed as intrusive as 10-foot-tall walls around water reservoir systems [acceptable]?

Drake: You mentioned the evacuation and that with the hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, that was a major problem. Are there technologies we’re not using—GIS or other technologies—that could assist in being prepared during an evacuation?

Filipiak: There are certainly technologies out there that allow people from a centralized location to monitor immediately what’s going on. In the Atlanta area, the traffic management system has huge screens that [display images from] every camera location along all the interstates so they can immediately see what’s going on. If we have a massive accident, they can put up a barrier, open up a barrier, and re-route the traffic to the other side.
Those tools are available. Up until recently, the public has felt that these disasters are waiting to happen only in Florida, the coast, and California, that they are not going to impact everybody else. But [considering] the cost to America as a whole, it’s costing us more not to do something than it is to be proactive.

Martella: With evacuation planning, there are several methods you can use to analyze the effects during an actual evacuation and disaster. You have static modeling and dynamic modeling. The dynamic modeling requires inputting more variables into the system to get close to a correct resolution of the actual evacuation of a lot of people. In some areas, a million people need to get out as quickly as possible. There are current computerized technologies available to do that.
One of the other things that we have been involved with when we look at a city’s hazard mitigation plan or their emergency operations plan is the type of evacuation planning they currently have in place. A lot of cities and municipalities throughout the country rely on the state to provide them with the proper evacuation planning. Some of it has not really been implemented at the local level to the point where they’ve had some type of testing, training exercises, or drills, and that still needs to be looked at. Also, as we found out through evacuations in Texas and Louisiana, the kinks have to be fine-tuned so that there’s no domino effect that occurs down the line—and that will happen during any evacuation.

Novacek: One of the things that became obvious with the two hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, was that the public service people the residents are going to rely on live in that area also and are going to want to evacuate their families and protect their property. So the planning effort has to account for the fact that you can’t expect [local people] to just forget that they have personal concerns in the area. They’re worried about their families, their dogs, their house, and their cars. If they’re busy working or providing public safety, or they’ve driven a bus out of town with evacuees on it, then who’s taking care of their families’ evacuation needs?
There are a lot of good plans out there, but there’s the human factor [to consider]. Forcing humans to do something that we don’t want to willingly do is very [difficult]. For example, they called it a mandatory evacuation, but there were still hundreds of thousands of people in the middle of this mandatory evacuation who stayed put.

Kinkade-Levario: Do you think that goes back to education—getting these plans out to people so they know what they’re supposed to do?

Novacek: I think that’s a possibility. I’m old enough to remember civil defense drills. I lived very close to a major military installation that was going to be a target [in case] of nuclear attack. We didn’t worry about whether we were going to survive, necessarily. But the idea was that you went through the drills, and you knew what to do. That’s the reason the military drills and drills and drills. If something happens, [soldiers] need to respond out of habit. The general public just doesn’t do that for disasters.
Governmental leaders hope that when they get on the news and make a statement for a certain action, hopefully everybody will respond in a positive manner. It turned out that they had a little bit better response after Katrina because people took it more seriously. Individuals tend to believe that some disaster is not going to happen to them or that they’ll behave differently. Unfortunately, we don’t always respond and behave in the manner in which we think we will.

Kinkade-Levario: I don’t think anybody can do it on their own. It’s just not intuitive to know how to get out of town or which routes to take. Some [Katrina victims] said, "We didn’t even know where to go. We didn’t even have a map."

Novacek: One of the challenges, in particular, is hurricanes. If you look at a map of the New Orleans area and the path of a hurricane coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, where do you evacuate to? The hurricane is moving constantly. They can forecast its route to a degree, but even at the last minute, it veered almost 30 or 40 miles to the east.
If you evacuated out of New Orleans to the east, you thought you might have been safe. But eastward, you would actually have gotten the worst part of the hurricane winds and the rain. It also then is going to go inland, so you had to go several hundred miles inland and then have to fight the fact that if it had a lot of rain, you would have flooding and wind anyway. So you almost have to be able to evacuate [everyone] in one direction, and you can’t take off to the southeast because you’re heading out into the Gulf of Mexico.
That similar issue [occurred in] Houston. Initially, [Hurricane Rita] was forecast to hit near Corpus Christi. Eventually, as the models got better and the weather patterns became clearer, [the projected path] turned and [the hurricane] hit right about on the Texas/Louisiana border. So the people who evacuated out of Corpus Christi to east Texas all of a sudden found themselves right smack dab in the middle of the hurricane.

Filipiak: Because of that unpredictability, all these people evacuated a lot quicker than they did in the New Orleans area. And then you had all this traffic that was just gridlocked, and nobody was going anywhere. They couldn’t get out of the system, and they really didn’t need to be there, as it turns out. All the planning and practice in the world isn’t going to be able to account for human nature and human emotions.
How do you practice mass evacuations of cities? It’s impossible. You can have models, show it, and put it on TV, but once you get those people out there, they’re going to do whatever they can to get out of the way if they feel threatened. All the tools in the world aren’t going to stop that.

Novacek: People coming out of Houston who were headed west, ran into the people who were coming from further south on the coast and were headed north. There are only so many land routes, and we don’t really have intercity passenger rail anymore, so you can’t load everybody up on a train. You can only put so many people on an airplane, and those airplanes were all busy carrying normal traffic. So, even had you tried to evacuate people and you actually looked at the physical issues behind it, it’s a very difficult challenge and it takes time.
To a large degree, the evacuation outside of the Houston area went very orderly. Yes, there were some bad things that happened, particularly that bus fire in the Dallas area. But when you look at the overall evacuation, it was a pretty massive undertaking. There were a lot of well-behaved people who all realized they needed to work together cooperatively. So, from one viewpoint, it was actually a very efficient effort that took place.

Martella: The question that remains is if the Houston hurricane had come first, would we have had that orderly evacuation as opposed to what happened with Katrina? It’s necessary, if you can’t create a full, mass evacuation, to provide some type of simulation analysis to at least see where people will go. As you said, the southern [Texas evacuees] were running into some of the [Houston evacuees]. That’s typically known as a "shadow effect," and it’s something that a good evacuation plan takes into account.
But I don’t want to deviate too much from the land development issue because to me it sounds as though, as an emergency response, it’s not just evacuation planning. If you have to shelter in place, would the land development professional provide those types of spaces for people to stay put and give them some ability to at least sustain them through whatever the disaster is? It’s called "refuge areas," and this is used overseas a lot. You give [residents] something close by that they could run to. It could be a vault-type of structure. But, it depends upon how many people you’re talking about and the location. Additionally, can you sustain it for a week or two?
When this all first started after 9/11, people were starting to build underground and above-ground shelters. But refuge areas are something that land developers should look at. They could be combined with community-type buildings. That’s something that needs a little bit further study, but it’s a good recommendation.

Novacek: That is a key point from the development standpoint. One of the issues that come up in disaster preparedness is the fact that different parts of the built environment are designed to withstand different impacts. Certain buildings can be made to withstand the hurricane-force wind, but the damage that’s caused by the [debris] missiles that are carried by the hurricane-force wind from the buildings that are not designed for that then become a bigger issue to account for. Where are the weak links? The public expects disaster preparedness professionals to account for it.

Drake: You talked about the unpredictability of hurricanes. How well do we understand hazards in this country—hurricanes, tornados, mud slides, drought, terrorism—and how is land development incorporated into that?

Novacek: I think we understand some of those various phenomena to a greater degree than others, but we don’t know enough about all of them in enough detail to fully understand the impacts they have. We’re getting pretty good at forecasting where hurricanes will go, but there’s still a variance. If you look at the predictions out of the tropical prediction center, they’ve got a pretty wide swath. They’ll even tell you that the various models used to try to determine hurricane paths disagree. They have to make a human decision as to which one appears to be the most accurate forecast.
But when it comes to earthquakes or volcanism, to this day we don’t know when Mount St. Helens might erupt again. On volcanoes that are relatively active, Japan seems to have a pretty good handle on some of the volcanism issues, but there are still issues from the earthquake standpoint. We don’t know when the stress builds up because it takes place at a relatively small rate. We’re getting better, but there are still complex interactions: Does the fault that’s 7,000 feet deep snap? If so, what happens to the fault that’s 14,000 feet deep that crosses it? Does it transfer stress? Is that why it takes so long to suddenly have a major earthquake? Or, is a major earthquake and its aftershocks really one long event with all the aftershocks being the continuation of the stress relief traveling down that fault?
Sometimes earthquakes take place and the effects of the [seismic] waves don’t occur in the same location as where a nearby earthquake on the same fault may have had an event. The disaster can happen hundreds of miles away.
Even in the Phoenix area, which is geologically stable, we sometimes feel California earthquake waves. You’ll feel the vibration of the earthquakes that happen out in the Mojave Desert area. The quake that happened a few years back in the Twenty-nine Palms area was one, in particular, that rattled some folks here. Some people in the area didn’t even feel it because of the frequency of the waves, their spacing, and how they [move through] the soil, but others were awakened in the middle of the night to shaking.

Kinkade-Levario: I’ve never had any disaster planning education. Engineers probably have more of that in structural items—transportation, bridges, and interchanges—but in land use planning, they don’t train us for disaster planning. We’re taught about disasters [similar to] natural features—don’t build in a flood plain, don’t build on the fissures. But they don’t train us to plan for natural disasters, only identifiable dangers.

Drake: In city planning, or any kind of land development, is this starting to become part of the discussion?

Elliott: It’s always been part of the development process. If a project is coming into a city, we look at the location, we look at the different FEMA maps, and we look at the seismic maps. We take that into account in the development process. We’ve had [developers propose] a tract of homes, and the question was [whether] it was too close to a fault line. You tell them, "Okay, you need to do a further soils report to see if there is a fault line there." And they’ve had to scrap the whole tract of homes. So now that 3-acre parcel is sitting empty because no one is going to build close to a known fault line. A developer that’s always been in the city knows what to look for. They know to go to the general plan and the zoning maps and see what’s out there: "Is that a parcel of land that I want to purchase to develop on, or are there too many unknowns?" They’ll do a lot of due diligence, but it’s the brand new developers coming in that don’t know the area that run into problems.

Kinkade-Levario: We all kind of understand the global disasters, but the specifics of designing what’s in a subdivision—such as a community center that is strong enough to [withstand] a hurricane or tornado —that’s more of the detailed planning that needs to be done at the local level.

Elliott: It’s interesting that from the hurricane [disasters], in California it was realized that our school buildings, where you go locally for shelter, are not [secure] for seismic. Those buildings can come down just as easily as a house or maybe more so than a single-family house. Now the schools are trying to seismically retrofit their buildings, but it’s at a cost. In California, you have to vote in a bond to let the schools retrofit their buildings. They’re 40, 50, 60-years-old, and they’ve never been touched since they’ve been built.

Martella: We find that schools tend to be a good place to shelter in large areas. Obviously, during a disaster they’re not being used, so you have a lot of space in which to put victims of the disaster. However, we’re finding that a lot of the schools or designated shelters in many of these municipalities do not have the storage area for the supplies they need for hundreds of people over a period of a week or two weeks. Where do you store this stuff? Is somebody keeping a watch over expiration dates and the shelf life? There’s a lot of that that still needs to be developed better within these emergency plans.
One other item that you brought out I want to comment on. As engineers and land development professionals, we tend to look at the developments from a "500-foot elevation." We can see the direct impacts of the proposed development, whether it is a geotechnical or seismic-type effect. However, we fall short when we don’t look at [projects] from the "10,000-foot elevation" until it’s too late. Then we go in and try to mitigate that problem. A lot of that still needs to be developed into a better strategic plan overall that brings in hazard mitigation, emergency response, and security.

Drake: Do we have the modeling tools to help do that?

Martella: There’s still some room to create strategic planning tools that would bring in all of the specific needs of a large-scale, regional-type planning model. We do a lot of regional planning across the country and we will look at current spreadsheets, databases, and actually do the hand cranking of the analysis. But, we can see more development of software that would hone in on a specific region and whatever variables need to be plugged into it to make it as realistic as possible. Obviously, you can never be 100 percent; but right now, if you’re better than 50 percent, you’re probably at a greater advantage than previous analyses have indicated.

Filipiak: There’s a wealth of information that’s available to engineers, designers, and land developers that didn’t exist five to 10 years ago. If it did exist, there weren’t any tools to access [the] information and get immediate results. There was nothing that said, "Okay. I have my corridor right here and my development. I can ascertain what’s going to happen, as you said, from the 500-foot level, but I don’t see [impacts] from 10,000 feet, whether [because] you put more people there, or that the water no longer can percolate into the ground but now is running off."
Now I have all that information, and those tools are available to me. Designers can now look at a broader aspect of their project and, say, "Well, if I do this here, I still can see the effect down here and how it’s going to impact people, not just in a natural disaster but in their daily lives." They can adjust their design in accordance with the local laws and regulations.

Kinkade-Levario: You also need a client that is willing to pay for that.

Filipiak: Correct.

Kinkade-Levario: If you don’t have a client that wants to go that far, you can push them only so far to look at that big picture. If they don’t want to pay you to do it, how far do you push the point and [possibly] lose the client?

Filipiak: That’s a valid point.

Drake: Is that the government’s role—for city, county, or state? And, because of the cost, how do you get that technology at that level?

Kinkade-Levario: It needs to come from the top down. If it’s a regulation, a guideline, or a zoning ordinance that’s in writing so we need to meet this guideline, that would be one of the best ways to make it happen.

Novacek: I disagree with that a little bit. I think it’s part of prudent design to check some of those things out. As part of the land development professional’s efforts, that is something that you tell the client is part of prudent design, therefore, it is part of the cost of that development. For example, we may use Bentley Systems’ water analysis software, and we’ll check what happens if this fails or if that fails or if this line goes out. Now, the extent by which you check the extent of the disaster, it becomes a risk-based analysis. How much risk are you willing to build into your system? How much risk are you willing to take?
The chance of an earthquake happening here in the Phoenix area, according to all of the latest information, is relatively low-risk, so we don’t necessarily design in this area for an earthquake. We may design for a flood. You design for the things that have the greatest risk of occurring. There are a lot of software tools that allow you to do things fairly quickly, therefore, the cost of checking that risk has come down quite a bit. But by the same token, we tend not to analyze for a tornado in the Phoenix area. We get tornados here, however, we don’t necessarily analyze for them.
And as Mr. Martella mentioned earlier, how much disaster do you want to account for? Do you store two weeks worth of fuel on site for the backup generator? Do you store a week? 48 hours? 24 hours? How much do you want to have so that the pump station that provides your water will continue to operate? You have to be willing to have that in inventory, and then you have to worry about things such as leakage and the environmental effects. And then you have to cycle it and use it up because those fuels do go bad over time.
We can go on and on with various ideas, but it’s how much risk you’re willing to accept and pay for to a large degree.

Elliott: Municipalities and water districts that have to supply the water for fires or anything of that sort are going to have backup generators for their pump stations or for storm drain systems that are pumped into channels. They take [fuel storage] into account. It’s part of their daily maintenance and operation of that facility.

Novacek: Geography has a lot to do it with it too, and the topography in the area. You try to accommodate a system that can work without mechanical inputs. From an engineering system, most large cities try to do that. They try to build reservoirs in higher areas that will work fully off of gravity.
However, how do you get the water to that [reservoir]? If their source is high enough, they can maybe [do] it via gravity, but in a lot of situations, your source is lower, so someplace you have to have a mechanical input that requires feeding some sort of expendable fuel to operate the system.
One of the things nobody thinks about is sewage. If you have an earthquake and it severs the sewer line, where’s the sewage going to go? Unfortunately, it will find its way, by gravity, somewhere—usually out of the top of a manhole and running down the street.
But, in certain parts of the country where the risk of earthquake is greater, those types of things can be accounted for. Unfortunately, infrastructure from 100 years ago may not account for that because it wasn’t considered a risk at that time. That is where the bigger issue comes in on some of the public policies when infrastructure fails: What was its age and what was the risk for which it was designed? With more data, newer data, we found out that some of what we thought were disasters before weren’t the worst disaster of the time. Something worse was still to come.

Drake: What role can land development professionals and engineers play in the planning and rebuilding process? How can the land development professionals and engineers get involved in the discussion and influence rebuilding after a disaster or even preparing for a disaster?

Martella: There are statewide organizations and you can volunteer to be on one of their advisory boards and lend some of the recommendations that are collected from your local areas. Whether it is municipalities or engineering firms working through ASCE or some of the other organizations, bring that to the table; provide that type of input requested by the state advisory boards.

Kinkade-Levario: [The organizations] could do some training, too.

Martella: You’re going to see more emergency response, planning, and hazard mitigation as part of the curriculum for some of the seminars from which you may obtain continuing education credits. A lot of that’s going to start becoming second nature soon. You should be trained in that aspect. If the states don’t provide the training by way of courses, you can probably go online and pick that up.

Novacek: Florida learned a lot from Hurricane Andrew. When Andrew came through and they saw the damage that occurred, they realized that they needed to beef up portions of the building code, in particular, those that dealt with wind damage.
As California experienced earthquakes over the years, [they] discovered that they need to account more for seismic design. And it became more rigorous. They wanted you to think of the various types [of damage] because it turned out there are at least two major ways you can get damage from seismic [activity]. There’s probably several more.
So, you learn from what you’ve experienced, to a large degree. The hurricanes that have come through [caused] a lot of damage to the support systems on the utility side—the weak links. Wires get blown down. Where you can put those underground, they still can have service.
We have an office on the west coast of Florida in Naples and one on the east side in West Palm Beach. When [Hurricane] Wilma came through there just a few weeks ago, the office in West Palm Beach, which was [hit] after the hurricane had actually weakened some and had moved [across] the state, was down and out of service, but our office in Naples had power and telephone service and was up and running. And the [hurricane] landfall was right in that area.
So [the Naples] area appeared better prepared to deal with those things, whereas some of the older areas or areas in which they haven’t planned for some of those items were facing ongoing disasters. Unfortunately, when we’re worried about bringing systems back up, the shortest, easiest solution is just to replace what was there. Re-hang the wires on the same poles, if the poles are still there. That doesn’t gain you any more preparedness than you had before.

Martella: A lot of new site development projects are including underground electric and taking away from the above-ground stuff, at least from what I see. It’s good and bad. There’s still electrical shorting that could occur, depending upon what the problem is.
I have a question. To get back to this issue about sustainable development, how do you think that’s going to be applied in rebuilding New Orleans? I think the rest of the Gulf Coast area is pretty much going to see a rebuilding to what it was previously, but New Orleans can’t do that. There’s no way that they’re going to bring all those people back, especially in the Ninth Ward, without something done with the levees, which I believe is also going to be too expensive. What do you think?

Filipiak: Do they even want to come back? It’s going to happen again, we just don’t know when. And just because you can alter the physical landscape doesn’t mean we ought to. Maybe we shouldn’t go back in there and rebuild the Ninth Ward. Maybe we shouldn’t do anything with it other than leave it as it was intended to be, something that, at one point in time, was a natural area for water below sea level. You can’t build in some situations. There’s money issues and things like that, and if people can make some money rebuilding it a different way, they’re going to do it.

Kinkade-Levario: I think they learned a lot about the natural systems. The land is sinking, from what I hear, and it continues to sink because it doesn’t [receive] that natural [sediment] deposit that it should be [receiving]. And they can’t [add sediment] with the levees and people living there.

Filipiak: You had a natural system of wetlands that were working before. When you developed, you lost that. So where’s all that natural water going? It has to be going somewhere and impacting something somewhere along the line.
I was in Biloxi three weeks before [Hurricane Katrina] hit and saw all these stately old homes that are within two football fields from the ocean. Short of building a 35-foot-tall wall, you’ll never be able to stop [storm surge] from coming over. So maybe you have to build back four or five blocks and leave that whole area open; just let it go back to its natural state. Those are dynamic shifting areas.

Elliott: Regulations [are needed], such as FEMA coming in and saying, "This is the flood level and no one is going to build below that flood level or there’s not going to be any FEMA money to bail them out." It would be another disaster waiting to happen if they come back in at the same elevation and rebuild their homes. All the infrastructure has to be rebuilt—sewer lines, water lines, gas lines—everything has to go back in. And unless they raise New Orleans up, they’re going to be back in the same boat.
In the news this morning, they were talking about the Corps of Engineers rebuilding levees back to the same hurricane status of level three. New Orleans [officials are] saying, "But that’s not enough. You need to build it to category five." But there’s a cost to it. Is the American public willing to let them build up to a category five, or is it back to a three? How many times does a category five hurricane occur? It’s a cost. Who is going to be paying for that cost? That needs to be taken into account.
FEMA is there for a good reason. They have the experience and the knowledge. You can’t say, "It’s never going to happen." It did. You have to go forward and not backwards.

Kinkade-Levario: That’s the top down again—some of the regulations pushing those people to do things. There are good engineers, and there are those that just build to the minimum, and those are the ones that really need to know the regulations.

Elliott: I think it also [requires] buy-in from the politicians. You just can’t say, "We’re going to rebuild. Let’s call a group together," and not have the right people in there to help restructuring of the community.

Filipiak: You have to have somebody willing to make a tough decision and be able to stand with it and get the backing behind it. Sometimes it’s just going to be a difficult, tough decision, and it’s not going to be a popular one. But it might be the right one.

Novacek: Whatever is decided is going to be expensive. There’s no doubt about it. And one of the things that I think the public would want to see is that we learn our lesson. Don’t build something that can fail again.
How much risk are we willing to pay for? The Dutch created a whole system across their [coastline] because they were willing to pay for that to happen. It’s worked so far. Whether it’s going to work on every storm that occurs, well, that’s the hope. But it was designed to a particular level of protection, and they think that their design achieved what they needed to or are willing to pay for to trade off for the risk.
On the American side of things—more than some other parts of the world—we are willing to accept risk for cost. Some other countries don’t have as tolerable a risk level for cost. They are willing to put the money into [projects] to reduce the amount of risk. The incremental reduction in risk is worth the money to them. That’s an observation on the way the American public and the American political system works.

Filipiak: If we’re going to use FEMA and government money to rebuild a city like New Orleans, then the government should make the decision as to what is going to be built back in there. If we, as taxpayers, are going to contribute billions of dollars to rebuilding, then I want our government to say, "This is how it’s going to have to be done." And the local [residents] and the state are going to have to just abide by it.

Martella: If the government wants to invest that much money into that area, there should be a pay-back. It should be as a loan, surely not a grant. There will be money to be made if the infrastructure is put back in place, and I think the government should receive reimbursement for whatever cash is put in there.

Filipiak: And if they don’t, then what if [the disaster] happens again? There’s nothing—there’s no bail out.

Martella: Maybe if they fixed the levees for $100 million, it will result in more land development in that area, because now there would be a certain level of protection or risk reduction. You’ve reduced risk, so now it becomes more acceptable to rebuild there, albeit maybe something like casinos or high-rises. But the government should be reimbursed, whether it is through taxes or some type of subsidy that goes along with the property. I hope they don’t lose sight of that or at least they don’t leave that out of the overall equation.


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