Sunday, October 08, 2006

Public safety must always take precedence

The American Society of Civil Engineers has published an important paper outlining 10 measures to improve hurricane protection and safeguard lives and property in the future.

Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later. What Must We Do Next? is a brief but powerful statement of what went wrong and what we must do to make sure it never happens again.

The big point they make is that hurricane protection is not to be confused with economic development. Building the most cost-effective levees leads to catastrophic failure as we recently experienced. ASCE’s Call-to-Action Number 1 calls attention to this weakness:

“As the hurricane protection system for New Orleans was being designed and debated amongst the USACE and state and local stakeholders, compromises were made based on cost, land use, environmental issues, and other conflicting priorities. Protection of the public’s safety was not always the outcome of these compromises.”

Hurricane protection is a matter of public safety. You can’t use a business model to justify a superior system of levees and gates. You have to build it with a mindset to safeguard lives. Anything less is a disservice to citizens that Civil Engineers are legally and ethically bound to protect.

The paper concludes:

“ASCE, working in partnership with the USACE and other engineering organizations should reinforce the need to place the safety, health, and welfare of the public first, and should communicate that public safety must always take precedence.”

I’m glad to see that ASCE understands this. Let’s see if the rest of America gets it, too.

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