Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fail to Fix--Fail to Comprehend

Prior to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in August 2005, several reports, studies, models, and even television documentaries had been made which, we later came to learn, accurately described the level of devastation from such an event.  Louisiana State University in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed a model and published a report in 2002 predicting the effects of a category 5 hurricane striking New Orleans; the Houston Chronicle and the New Orleans Times-Picayune published articles in 2001 and 2002, respectively, on just what would happen were a powerful hurricane to strike New Orleans; National Geographic had published a story in 2004 describing a hypothetical hurricane strike on New Orleans that was so prescient as to eerily appear to be actually describing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and the first episode of the Weather Channel’s then-new series “It Could Happen Tomorrow”,  was already in the can by mid-2005 and depicted what would happen if a category 5 hurricane made a direct hit on New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina struck before the episode ever aired.  Then, during the actual Katrina disaster, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff made the comment on live television that “No one could have foreseen this.”

Will this be the response when a massive failure at a lock and dam occurs?  When such a failure does occur, whether it be a dam collapsing, causing the pool below it to rise, damaging docks and flooding low-lying areas and the pool behind it to drop, causing docks to fall, water intakes to become exposed, and leaving the channel depth too low for safe navigation; or a lock wall toppling over or crumbling to rubble, thereby shutting off the river completely for years until a new lock is built, will Congress wake up and provide the necessary funds for speedy and adequate repair, or will they choose to blame Industry and advocacy agencies for not doing enough to call their attention to the problem?  While a failure at a river lock or dam is nowhere near the catastrophic severity of a hurricane landfall in a heavily populated area, it will nevertheless have widespread and long-lasting consequences that will always bear the stigma of a failure that could have been prevented.

When electricity costs go through the roof because coal cannot reach power plants; when several municipalities are faced with water crises because their water intakes are no longer operational; when vehicles are lined up for miles completely gridlocked because hundreds of trucks are suddenly required to bring raw materials to various plants; when unemployment spikes because businesses that rely on waterway transportation cannot, whether for economic or logistical reasons, use another mode are forced to shut down or move elsewhere; when snowy roads in the winter are left untreated because municipalities can no longer afford road salt because the price has tripled since it now has to be brought in by rail or truck, will we hear the same unbelievable excuse that “No one could have foreseen this?”  This situation has been thoroughly publicized through countless studies, reports, newspaper articles, magazine features, and press releases to the point where no one can ever honestly say that they couldn't see this coming.

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