Hearings - Testimony
Full Committee
Evaluate the Degree to which the Preliminary Findings on the Failure of the Levees are Being Incorporated into the Restoration of Hurricane Protection
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Mr. Dan Hitchings
Director, Task Force HOPE, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, I am Mr. Daniel Hitchings, Regional Business Director for the Mississippi Valley Division, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. I am honored to be testifying before your Committee today, on the efforts by the Corps of Engineers to incorporate forensic findings into our ongoing repair of the storm damage reduction projects in the New Orleans area.


Repairs to the Existing System

With our contractors, we are working around the clock on the levees and floodwalls to reduce the risk of damage through the remainder of this hurricane season, which continues until the end of November, and the rainy season that the area normally experiences in December and January. Our goal is to complete this phase of the effort before the start of the next hurricane season, which begins in June 2006. Our teams are actively gathering data and information from the recent storms, and we have also begun an after action assessment of the existing storm damage reduction system.

Investigating the Performance of the Existing System

The Corps takes its responsibility for the safety and well-being of the Nation’s citizens very seriously. In the case of the New Orleans area, we are determined to learn what failed, how it failed, why it failed, and to recommend ways to reduce the risk of failure in the future. There is no single answer to the question as to why there were failures in the storm damage reduction system, as there were multiple breaches of levees and floodwalls at a number of locations and the failure mechanism or mechanisms are likely to vary. The answer to this will follow from a thorough analysis of the data we are now collecting. In some cases, e.g. the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, we have observed evidence of overtopping. In other cases, e.g. the 17th Street Canal, we have observed evidence of massive soil movement. The physical processes that caused the breaches will be determined from the comprehensive analysis of the data that we are collecting. What we have to date is evidence of what happened; we can see the final result of the structural behavior, but we cannot yet determine why. That will require more understanding of the design intent of each structure, its condition prior to the storm, the forces to which it was subjected (static and dynamic) and how we would expect it to respond to those forces. This is the objective of our current interagency analysis efforts. Understanding why this happened will also help us to develop recommendations on ways to reduce the risk of failure in the future.

The Chief of Engineers, Lieutenant General Carl A. Strock has commissioned an Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) to conduct an engineering evaluation. The IPET includes engineers and scientists from the Engineer Research and Development Center from Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Institute for Water Resources in Alexandria, Virginia, numerous universities, and the private sector, as well as from other Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As the team deployed, the American Society of Civil Engineers and a University of California team sponsored by the National Science Foundation approached the Corps about similar studies of infrastructure performance they were undertaking in hopes of applying lessons learned to the levee systems in California. In the spirit openness and full transparency, we invited them to join our team beginning on September 29, 2005, for inspections of the projects involved. On September 30, 2005, we learned that the State of Louisiana would soon establish its own study team and the researchers from the Louisiana State University Hurricane Research Center were invited to join our team in advance of this official establishment. The Corps gratefully acknowledges the assistance provided by these teams in the collection of the data.

The data collection teams have been performing field work in the New Orleans area to obtain as much data as possible related to the performance of the levees and floodwalls and to ensure that data is collected before it is covered over or lost by cleanup or as a result of repair efforts. They have been diligently recording the damages and measuring the post-Katrina conditions. They have examined physical evidence to establish the maximum water elevations at various locations. To establish the timeline of events, they have conducted detailed interviews with about 70 people who sat out the storm. To establish the soil properties, they have pushed a state of the art instrumented cone to a depth of 80 feet at 56 locations. They further collected samples of the soil at depth in 10 locations. They have also electronically scanned boxes of documents dealing with the design, construction, and maintenance of the projects involved.

Over the next eight months, the IPET will examine and analyze the data and rationally test various hypotheses about the behavior of the infrastructure. Through a thorough analysis of the data that we are collecting, we will explore whether human error played any role in the performance of the infrastructure. The IPET will use collected data, laboratory testing, and modeling activities in its analysis. The work currently planned includes providing an updated and accurate vertical geodetic datum, performing storm surge and wave modeling; determining the hydrodynamic forces created by the storm, analyzing the floodwall and levee performance when subjected to these forces; conducting interior drainage/flooding modeling to include pumping station performance; and conducting a consequence analysis and a risk and reliability assessment.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is supporting our efforts with an External Review Panel, which will provide an independent oversight of the IPET evaluation. The final IPET report will be released in June 2006. However, any important findings will be shared on an ongoing basis before then with those who are involved in the repair of the existing New Orleans levees and floodwalls.

We are making all findings available to the public and invite the public and the scientific and engineering community to share any information they may have. On October 29th, the Corps began releasing available data by posting it on a publicly accessible web site, https://ipet.wes.army.mil. Additional data will be added to the web site as it becomes available. The IPET is collecting pre-Katrina documentation (design and construction drawings, soil sample records, etc.), post-Katrina documentation (hydrographic surveys, soil samples, concrete cores, etc.) and other performance data (eyewitness accounts, photographs, etc.). The data being released includes design memorandums dating back to the 1960s, and the associated reports for the Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana and Vicinity High Level Plan, which includes the 17th Street Outfall Canal and the London Avenue Outfall Canal. This information includes the project plan, hydrology and hydraulics, geology, foundation investigation and design (including the field exploration, soil borings, and laboratory testing) and the structural design.

In addition to the IPET effort, the Secretary of Defense has directed the Secretary of the Army to convene an independent panel of national experts under the direction of the National Academies to evaluate the performance of the storm damage reduction system in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The National Academies is assembling a multidisciplinary (e.g., engineering, atmospheric sciences, etc.) panel drawn from the public and private sectors and academia.

The National Academies Panel will perform a high-level review and issue findings and recommendations based primarily but not solely on the data gathered by the IPET and the ASCE Independent Review Panel. The findings of the National Academies Panel will be subject to a peer review process before being released under the imprimatur of the National Academies.

The National Academies Panel will produce a forensic study that focuses on the existing levees and/or floodwalls that were overtopped, breached, or failed during Hurricane Katrina, and whether such situations were the result of design, construction, or operation and maintenance issues, soil and geo-technical conditions, changed assumptions upon which the design or construction were based, the severity of Hurricane Katrina, or other factors. The National Academies Panel is expected to produce its final report by July 2006. All reports generated by these panels will be made available to the public.

Coordination of Post-Storm Analyses with Ongoing Repair Efforts

Until we can collect and analyze all the physical evidence, we will not have a complete picture of what happened. The results of our study will provide a better indication of the extent to which the existing system can be expected to reduce the risk of future storm damage. We will be examining and providing analysis on the performance of the entire storm damage reduction system, to understand the failures that occurred, to understand other components of the system that may have been degraded in their capacity to protect against future storms and to understand where the system performed successfully. We will be developing information on risk and reliability of the system as it will be following the current repairs. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that we do not need to wait until the study is complete to begin applying what we learn. As we learn we will immediately act to incorporate those findings into the work in which we are engaged. In the interim, results are being shared on an ongoing basis with the team responsible for the repair of the existing levees and floodwalls.

As the data collection teams have been completing their work, they have been convening exit briefings with representatives of the New Orleans District. This week, the team charged with the repair of the existing system, identified as Task Force Guardian, will be provided with a formal summary report with recommendations to improve the system’s performance based on the information collected and analyzed to date. The team is already at work increasing the depth of sheet piling and providing armor stone protection in some areas. The summary report will be made available on the publicly accessible web site.

This concludes my statement. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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