Engineers are getting better at picking up the pieces after hurricanes and reducing the next-flood risk in devastated areas. But places vulnerable to catastrophic events generally must wait until they have been wrecked before significant risk-reduction measures are planned, funded and applied.
As the 2009 hurricane season opens, $14.3 billion worth of levee repairs and new defense construction is roaring ahead in the area smashed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Construction began in May on a massive, roughly $1.8-billion surge barrier to protect the southeastern flank of New Orleans, where the Corps of Engineers has pledged to achieve by the 2011 storm season protection against surges with a 1% probability of occurring in any year. A second $500-million-plus barrier of similar size, further south, is in late stages of design.