Army Assistant Secretary Woodley says study will take about eight months

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has instructed the Army to convene an panel of outside specialists to study why levees and floodwalls around New Orleans failed in the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

Under Rumsfeld's directive, announced Oct. 19, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey will ask the National Academies of Science and Engineering to assemble a panel from a variety of disciplines to study whether levee or floodwall failures occurred because of design, construction, operation or maintenance factors, soil conditions, "changed assumptions" on which design or construction was based, or the strength of the hurricane.

Assistant Army Secretary for Civil Works John Paul Woodley Jr. told a House water resources and environment subcommittee hearing on Oct. 20 that the National Academies review is expected to take about eight months. The panel's report will go through a peer review before it is released.

Woodley also said that the Corps of Engineers has set up an Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force to collect data on the flood protection systems. In addition, an American Society of Civil Engineers group is gathering information "to apply to the development of design criteria," he said.

Other studies of the levees are being carried out by a National Science Foundation-funded team and a Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development group that includes researchers from Louisiana State University , the Army's Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, told the House panel.

The National Academies' panel is to issue findings and make recommendations based mainly but not exclusively on these other investigations, DOD said.

Strock testified that with the National Academies' analysis "we will be able to evaluate the performance of the system during the storm, evaluate its performance in recovering from the flooding, identify any weaknesses and recommend ways to improve the performance of the hurricane protection system at the authorized level of protection."

Strock reiterated his earlier statement that the Corps is aiming to rebuild the New Orleans levee system to its pre-Katrina protective level--to withstand a Category 3 hurricane--before June, the start of the 2006 hurricane season. He has estimated the cost of that construction at $1.6 billion.

(Photo by the office of Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works)