This Article highlights the hazards of hindsight analysis of the causes of catastrophic events, focusing on theories of why the New Orleans levees failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and particularly on the theory that the levee failures were “caused” by a 1977 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lawsuit that resulted in a temporary injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers’ hurricane protection project for New Orleans. The Article provides a detailed historical reconstruction of the decision process that eventuated in the New Orleans storm surge protection system, focusing both on the political and legal factors involved and on the “standard project hurricane” risk assessment model that lay at the heart of the Army Corps of Engineers’ decisionmaking process. The Article then offers a detailed analysis of how and why Hurricane Katrina overcame the New Orleans levee system. As this analysis demonstrates, the argument that the NEPA lawsuit played a meaningful causal role in the Katrina disaster is not persuasive. Parallel lessons are then drawn for forward-looking disaster policy. The same problems of uncertainty and complexity that confound the attempt through hindsight to attribute causal responsibility for a disaster also confound the attempt to predict using foresight the variety of outcomes, including potentially disastrous ones, that may flow from policy choices. Focusing narrowly on any single parameter of complex natural and human systems is likely to dramatically distort environmental, health, and safety decisionmaking, whether the parameter is a “standard project hurricane” when planning a hurricane protection plan, or the equally mythical “lawsuit that sunk New Orleans” when attempting to allocate responsibility for the plan’s failure some forty years later.
The export option will allow you to export the current search results of the entered query to a file. Different
formats are available for download. To export the items, click on the button corresponding with the preferred download format.
By default, clicking on the export buttons will result in a download of the allowed maximum amount of items.
To select a subset of the search results, click "Selective Export" button and make a selection of the items you want to export.
The amount of items that can be exported at once is similarly restricted as the full export.
After making a selection, click one of the export format buttons. The amount of items that will be exported is indicated in the bubble next to export format.