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Too Bad Hippocrates Wasn't an Engineer
NY Times ^ | June 11, 2006 | JOHN SCHWARTZ

Posted on 06/11/2006 9:53:40 PM PDT by neverdem

IN ancient Babylon, they knew from accountability. Under the Code of Hammurabi, "If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death." What's more, "If it kill the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death."

Engineers these days don't have that worry. Mistakes may carry legal penalties and a measure of shame. The people who die are those who depend on the engineers' work.

Nearly 1,600 people died in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed. A June 1 report from investigators working for the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that flaws in the design, building and maintenance of the New Orleans hurricane protection system — the levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates — played a big role in putting 80 percent of the city under water.

Critics of the corps had argued for months that mistakes made the toll worse than it might have been, and they've alleged that there were more flaws in the system than the corps' report conceded. But with the admission by the corps, the tragedy of Katrina moved officially from the exclusive realm of natural disasters to that of disasters caused, in part, by man. John Barry, author of "Rising Tide," about the Mississippi floods of 1927, called the Katrina flooding "by a large margin, the worst engineering mistake in the history of civilization."

Thus do the dirt, concrete and steel of New Orleans take their place on the dishonor roll of engineering disasters. The list is long, and includes the failure of the Teton Dam in Idaho in 1976, which killed 11 people and caused an estimated $1 billion in...

(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Editorial; Government; News/Current Events; US: District of Columbia; US: Idaho; US: Louisiana; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: disasters; engineering; engineers; katrina; science
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James L. Long Associates
Shuttle, 1979 The space shuttle Columbia was scheduled for its first mission in 1979. But when protective tiles fell off as it was being shipped to the launching site, it was back to the drawing board.

Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
Levee, 2005 The floodwall at the 17th Street Canal was one part of the New Orleans system that failed, sending water gushing through the levee.

Jerome Delay/Associated Press
Airport, 2004 Investigators pointed to four basic flaws in the design and construction of the passenger terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris that collapsed, killing four people.

United States Bureau of Reclamation, via Associated Press
Dam, 1976 The Teton Dam, built on a geologically suspect site, burst not long after it was completed.
1 posted on 06/11/2006 9:53:43 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level?

Nawww,,,,,, we can do that!


2 posted on 06/11/2006 9:57:24 PM PDT by RonHolzwarth ("History repeats itself - first as tragedy, then as farce" - Karl Marx)
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To: neverdem

I've heard that at one time parachutists in the service were dying because of improperly packed chutes. So they implimented a policy of making the parachute packers jump using one of the chutes they packed, picked at ramdom. It cut way down on chutes that failed to properly deploy.

I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?


3 posted on 06/11/2006 9:59:00 PM PDT by metmom (Welfare was never meant to be a career choice.)
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To: neverdem

Too bad journalists and editors aren't held to the same standard engineers are. A good 99% would be in jail by now.


4 posted on 06/11/2006 10:01:10 PM PDT by randog (What the...?!)
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

So you don't think that engineers drive cars, live in buildings, lived in New Orleans, fly on airplanes, ride on trains? They share the same risk of "poor designs" everyone else face.

5 posted on 06/11/2006 10:02:32 PM PDT by Texasforever (I have neither been there nor done that.)
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To: metmom
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?

I know engineers that have gone to jail for malfeasance.

6 posted on 06/11/2006 10:03:38 PM PDT by randog (What the...?!)
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To: neverdem

bump


7 posted on 06/11/2006 10:08:31 PM PDT by indthkr
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To: neverdem
More people died from the North Sea flood of 1953 in the Netherlands than died in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Due to levee breaks, 9% of the Netherlands' farmland was inundated by sea water. That's the worst levee-breach caused flooding in modern history in terms of loss of life.

Even more people died in the Johnstown Flood of 1889, which was caused by a dam collapse after years of neglect.

Bad engineering and neglect has happened over the course of human history.
8 posted on 06/11/2006 10:11:17 PM PDT by conservative in nyc
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To: randog
Well said. A bit of engineer bashing going on here. What isn't said is that in the above mentioned examples it was likely a pointy headed manager that overrode the engineer's more conservative approach.

How many reporters give half a seconds worth of thought into the implications of what they write? Engineers by nature consider the downside of their design failing - before they commit it to being built. Then they test and retest before subjecting the public to their product. Then some damn fool finds a way to break it and gets a lawyer to sue.

There was a time when engineers were heralded as makers of the bright future. Now whiny journalists complain and lawyers destroy careers. And we wonder why few students want to study engineering. :(
9 posted on 06/11/2006 10:13:11 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: metmom

For railroad bridges it used to be that the engineer would stand under it when there was the first [test] train driven across the bridge.


10 posted on 06/11/2006 10:18:33 PM PDT by GSlob
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To: neverdem
Add to the list, the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel. There were "skywalks" that collapsed during a "tea dance." 46 people were killed in 1981.

Mark

11 posted on 06/11/2006 10:19:26 PM PDT by MarkL (When Kaylee says "No power in the `verse can stop me," it's cute. When River says it, it's scary!)
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To: neverdem
THANK YOU for linking to the Printer Friendly version of the article.

Those of us trapped in 56K dialup HELL really appreciate it!

12 posted on 06/11/2006 10:20:48 PM PDT by upchuck (Wikipedia.com - the most unbelievable web site in the world.)
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To: Texasforever; potlatch


Live in a swamp

Die in a swamp

--

My liberal NYC enviro sister sez New Orleans will be under water within a certain number of years anyway

Why rebuild on below seal level land that sinks more as you add more weight above it and is surrounded by water?


Money wasted on bridge studies, water fountains, casinos, bribes -


If they had wanted to hold back the waters they would have copied the Dutch

But instead the New Orleans politicians and scammers went for the quick and dirty buck instead -









13 posted on 06/11/2006 10:21:50 PM PDT by devolve (fx AMERICANS_KILLED_IN_2003_BY_ILLEGALS FBI-DOJ_REPORT_4380+4745=9125 NO__NUEVO__TEJAS!)
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To: devolve

All true!


14 posted on 06/11/2006 10:25:46 PM PDT by potlatch (Does a clean house indicate that there is a broken computer in it?)
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To: randog

the NY Times had a hand in covering up the deaths of millions of people during Stalin's reign of terror. Since then, the NY Times has had a hand in bringing Castro to power, as well as in helping the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge come to power. I wonder what the penalty should be for a newspaper that repeatedly does things like that?


15 posted on 06/11/2006 10:27:58 PM PDT by vbmoneyspender
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To: RonHolzwarth
Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level?

No. That was a political mistake. The engineering mistake was in determining the building and maintenance requirements (the first and fourth steps in most standard engineering projects).

When I was in the Navy operating nuclear reactors we had to periodically test everything to make sure that our equipment operated up to specifications. You never build something and expect it to last forever. In some cases it was difficult to test something by conventional means so alternate tests were performed (such as using radiography to test welds). But nothing was ignored.

Contrast this with the levees in New Orleans. How did they know (and certify) each year that the levees would operate to specifications? They didn't in reality. They just signed paperwork to make it look like they were. The most significant flaw was the settling of the levees and the sinking of the city so that the levees were overtopped. By measuring the height of the levees they could have determined if they needed to be repaired.

The biggest issue in this disaster is that the Army Corps of Engineers gave custody of the levees to the corrupt New Orleans Levee Districts assuming that since levee failure would hurt them the most, they would do a good job of making sure the levees were in specification. What a mistake!

Additional testing is more expensive. Perhaps New Orleans and the federal government wouldn't have bought the levees if they realized that. But that was a political issue. As far as I can tell, the initial design engineers did their jobs correctly. The maintenance engineers and politicians fouled this hole situation up.

16 posted on 06/11/2006 10:30:22 PM PDT by burzum (Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.--Adm. Rickover)
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To: metmom

We'd walk everywhere we go - for starters.


17 posted on 06/11/2006 10:30:38 PM PDT by DB ()
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To: burzum

The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.


18 posted on 06/11/2006 10:34:13 PM PDT by DB ()
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To: upchuck
THANK YOU for linking to the Printer Friendly version of the article.

Those of us trapped in 56K dialup HELL really appreciate it!

What about the pics in comment# 1? Do they cause any grief?

19 posted on 06/11/2006 10:39:35 PM PDT by neverdem (May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows that you're dead.)
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To: DB
The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.

I concur. The politicians didn't want to build one that big. But that isn't the primary issue with the New Orleans levee failure. The levees failed because the water level was over specification. That is problem #1. Problem #2 is that some of the levees had sunk below design specification.

As someone who had to evaluate operational failures I can't really say much about problem #1 other than to say you get what you pay for. On problem #2, which made this casuality worse, I would rip out the hearts of the maintenance engineers and politicians.

20 posted on 06/11/2006 10:40:02 PM PDT by burzum (Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.--Adm. Rickover)
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