UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Engineers studying levee failures in New Orleans

– Civil engineers from the University of California, Berkeley, have arrived in New Orleans as part of an independent team of researchers investigating levee failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The research team is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and led by Ray Seed, UC Berkeley professor of civil engineering and principal investigator of the NSF grant. The team will collaborate closely with groups from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), sharing data and resources, but each team's findings will be developed independently.

"Many public statements have been made in recent weeks about the causes of the levee breaches," said Seed. "The goal of our efforts is to get to the truth of what actually happened so that we can learn from these failures and identify where we need to improve our defenses."

The first major site investigation for the NSF-funded team began in New Orleans on Sunday, Oct. 2, and additional team members will rotate in as project conditions dictate. The three investigative teams (from the NSF, ASCE and Army Corps) will work together on site as long as necessary to collect and analyze data.

Other UC Berkeley researchers involved in this levee investigation are Robert Bea, professor of civil engineering; Jonathan Bray, professor of civil engineering; Juan Pestana, associate professor of civil engineering; and Rune Storesund, a graduate student in civil engineering.

They are being joined by a dozen national experts in levees and post-disaster forensic investigation. These other leading experts include faculty and researchers from other universities, experts from state and federal agencies, and independent consultants.

Supplementary funding to help support travel for some investigators is being provided by the UC Berkeley-based Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), the California Department of Water Resources and the Sacramento District Army Corps of Engineers.

The researchers studying the levee failures expect to identify and prioritize the steps that need to be taken to help restore the critical societal infrastructure that was damaged by Katrina and to extend lessons learned to other regions of the United States.

Other UC Berkeley efforts to study aspects of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath are underway, including a project led by Karlene Roberts, professor of organizational behavior, to analyze societal dynamics and such critical response organizations as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Bea, the civil engineering professor, is leading a separate initiative to study the performance of coastal and offshore facilities, including refineries, oil platforms and pipelines.

When ready, the findings of their investigation will be made publicly available.