Predicting Disaster

It’s one thing if a completely unexpected disaster strikes and officials are caught with their pants around their ankles. Then there’s Katrina:

Computer models developed at Louisiana State University and other institutions made detailed projections of what would happen if water flowed over the levees protecting the city or if they failed. In July 2004, more than 40 federal, state, local and volunteer organizations practiced this very scenario in a five-day simulation code-named “Hurricane Pam,” where they had to deal with an imaginary storm that destroyed over half a million buildings in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a million residents. At the end of the exercise, Ron Castleman, regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared: “We made great progress this week in our preparedness efforts …”

Mr. Castleman may have uttered the most troubling Katrina related words. Then again …

In comments on Thursday, President Bush said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” But Louisiana State University engineer Joseph Suhayda and others have warned for years that defenses could fail. In 2002, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a five-part series on “The Big One,” examining what might happen if they did. It predicted that 200,000 people or more would be unwilling or unable to heed evacuation orders and that thousands would die. It also predicted that people would be housed in the Superdome, that aid workers would find it difficult to gain access to the city as roads became impassable, as well as many other of the consequences that actually unfolded after Katrina hit this week.

Whole depressing thing here.