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Defense Department Special Briefing on Efforts to Mitigate Infrastructure Damage from Hurricane Katrina

Presenters: Lieutenant General Carl Strock, Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Chief of Engineers
September 02, 2005 10:45 AM EDT

Defense Department Special Briefing on Efforts to Mitigate Infrastructure Damage from Hurricane Katrina

            STAFF:  Well, good morning.  We are fortunate enough to have this morning with us Lieutenant General Carl Strock, who I think many of you know.  He is the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. General Strock has made himself available to give a brief rundown of what the corps has been doing, what some of their plans are to mitigate the infrastructure damage from Hurricane Katrina.  We have a limited amount of time with him, so let me get right into it so we can answer some of your questions. 

 

            General, thank you again. 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Well, thank you very much, and good morning. 

 

            I am General Carl Strock, and I'm the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and chief of engineers.  What I'd like to do today is explain what the Corps of Engineers' role is in responding to and recovering from this disaster, and then to give you an update on where we are specifically in the New Orleans area as we're fighting the floods, and also cover a bit for you what we're doing to restore navigation across the coast of the Gulf. 

 

            The Corps of Engineers is involved in three ways here; first, in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the National Response Plan.  We provide one of the emergency support functions called public works, and in that capacity we do debris removal, we provide ice, water. We provide emergency power, temporary shelter, and we fix roofs.  We provide command and control facilities and basically whatever else is needed in the area of public works. 

 

            The other thing we're involved with is in our own agency authorities.  As an agency of the federal government, we have responsibility for civil works, which includes deep draft navigation and flood control.  So we have authorities within the agency to restore navigation and also to fight flooding outside of the FEMA authorities. 

 

            The third element we're doing is in support of Joint Task Force Katrina, where we're ensuring that not only do the right kind of Army engineers flow forward to help General Honore, but also to make sure that my agency, which is principally civilians, about 34,000 civilians, is made available to him in his military support to the effort. 

 

            The real things I want to focus on today, though, are the situations in New Orleans and the navigation.  Currently we feel that the water levels in the city have stabilized.  We don't expect a rise in the levels.  There is some fluctuation based on the tidal influence from the Lake Pontchartrain, but essentially the flooding has stabilized and the task at hand now is to drain the city and create the conditions where recovery can begin to take place. 

 

            The challenge we faced was that we had two breaches in the levees on the Lake Pontchartrain side.  These levees were at 17th Street and at the London Avenue Canal.  The greatest challenge here, I suppose, was trying to understand the nature of the problem we faced, because like everyone, we had evacuated the city, and it was only after the storm had passed that we began to get out and assess what was going on.  And even then, as you understand, communications and access were very difficult.  So even getting to the site and understanding what we face was a challenge for us. 

 

            And then after understanding and setting a plan in foot -- and by the way, we do have a plan on the shelf in anticipation of this -- mobilizing the equipment, the people and material to go out and address the problem was also a challenge, because the site was essentially completely   surrounded by water. 

 

            The approach we took was threefold:  

 

            First, to try to gain access in the land.  So we're working with the city, with FEMA and other agencies to move construction equipment to the site by building causeways from dry land out to the site of the breach. 

 

            The second is to work from the water.  Access to the area by water is also difficult, because while they have bridges across these canals where the breaches are located, those bridges cannot be lifted. They're out of service because they don't have power.  So we couldn't get direct water access to the breach point.  And so our solution, then, was to try to seal off the mouth of the canal where it empties into the lake.  And that is going on now, very good progress.  And I haven't heard most recently, but we anticipated by about now we should see the 17th Street canal crossing pretty well closed by a sheet pile wall, and the London Avenue canal -- should start work about now, to close that canal down. 

 

            Those are not critical right now, because I've said that the lake levels have steadied.  But we are concerned.  As we look down the line here, we see storms forming up in the Atlantic.  We want to make sure that we don't catch ourselves with levees open and another storm front moving on us.  So we're going to go ahead and proceed to close those canals, although that's not vital to our recovery effort at the moment.  Once those canals are closed, we will then begin to actually work the levees. 

 

            The third element is an aerial approach, and you've seen, I think, some of that activity going on.  This too represented a challenge, because we have very limited aviation assets.  And rotary wing is really what we need to put material into these breaches.  And that's the very asset we need to do search-and-rescue and save victims.   

 

            So our efforts became something of a second priority, and our initial plan was delayed a bit because of that.  And in fact, that's not unreasonable, because while water's flowing, our ability to stop it is even more difficult.  But now that it's stabilized, the aerial method is going in.  And I unfortunately don't have any direct status for you on that, but that is occurring right now.   

 

            Under this, we're dropping essentially sandbags in.  We started out with 300-pound sandbags, and we have the ability to do 2,000 and larger bags.  And we have a sufficient quantity of those on hand to get this done. 

 

            So all three of those things are working, and whatever works first is the way we're going to go. 

 

            Now the next task we have is to essentially de-water the city. The plans call for breaching levees on the Lake Pontchartrain side and really letting gravity take control to move the water out to sea. That is the most effective and efficient way to do that.  

 

            I know there's a lot of interest in how long it will take, and I really can't comment on that now.  We should have a better feel once we really, truly analyze the situation.  But that's dependent on the size of the breaches we make in the levee.  A small breach obviously takes longer to drain.  The challenge is, the larger the breach the more vulnerable you are to other events.  So we've got to be very careful about just how we do this dewatering operation.   

 

            As that begins, we go back into the pumping stations, which are really the standing way that the people of New Orleans remove water from their city.  We'll go back in -- we understand the condition of each of those pumps already -- we'll go back in when we can get access, we will energize the pumps, and then the pumping will kick in and that will complete the process.  We'll close the levees, and that should then create the conditions for the recovery to begin. 

 

            On the navigation side, essentially navigation is closed from Mobile all the way across to west of New Orleans.  The principal features we're looking at are the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.  That is open except for about a 10-mile stretch, and we simply haven't gotten in to do the hydrographic surveys there, but we would anticipate we'll have the Intercoastal Waterway open fairly soon.  The channel from Baton Rouge to the sea buoy outside of New Orleans has been surveyed and found free of obstructions, and we feel we have about 46 to 49 feet of deep water, so we can move vessels in and out of New Orleans. But our challenge is the navigation aides.  So we're working with the NOAA Navigation Response Teams and the U.S. Coast Guard to reestablish aides to navigation.  This is the buoys that can be seen by the navigators and pilots as they move back through.  And it's also -- we've put lights in for night movement.  We anticipate we will not be able to do night operations for some time to come.  There's also a process where the river pilots have to actually run the river themselves and assure themselves that they understand the situation before they'll bring vessels in and out of the port.  But we do have vessels standing by to get in, and some would like to get under way, so we'll make that happen as quickly as possible. 

 

            I know the time's limited here so I won't go through the full explanation, but we're working in a similar fashion at all the ports from Pascagoula to Biloxi to Mobile, to survey the ports and then get them open as quickly as possible. 

 

            Let me just touch on a couple of points that have been in the press lately and take this opportunity to assure you that we have done everything we can to protect the city and then to respond to a disaster like this.  There was some discussion that had the flood protection of New Orleans been funded at a more vigorous rate that these projects would have been   complete and this event would not have happened.  It is my personal and my professional assessment that that is not the case.   

 

            There are three main projects that are being worked in the New Orleans area.  Since 2002, we've contributed more than $300 million to these projects, so it is a sizable effort.  This involves work on the shores of Lake Ponchatrain; it involves a project called the Southeast Louisiana or SELA project, which is focused on work inside the levees and protecting the system from flooding and restoring drainage; and finally, the west bank projects on the other side of the river. 

 

            I'm going to show you a graphic here, and I know it won't be very effective in this thing, but just to give you a sense of what we're dealing with. 

 

            New Orleans is protected by a series of 13 levees, over 300 miles of levee.  And what you see here are the levee systems in red where we have significant flooding, and in green where we have minor flooding. So this just kind of gives you a visual of the size of the problem we're facing.  And it's in that red area, up in this area, we've had the levee breaks.   

 

            Q     (Off mike.) 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Yes, I can do that.  And we can have this graphic available to y'all after.  But that is a graphic representation of the size of the problem we're talking about. 

 

            I might point out also there are multiple parishes involved here; this is not just Orleans and Jefferson Parish we're talking about. 

 

            Now, could this have been avoided?  The area where the levee leaks -- where the levee breaks occurred was at its final design configuration.  So that was as good as it was going to get.  And what does that mean?  Actually we knew that it would protect from a Category 3 hurricane.  In fact, it has been through a number of Category 3 hurricanes.  The intensity of this storm simply exceeded the design capacity of this levee.  And those two points-- and others were over top, but those are the two main points of trouble.  But that is the basic problem here, is that this storm exceeded the design capacity. 

 

            So the next question is, why Category 3 and not 4 and 5?  A very complex question, but it involves an assessment of the engineering, the risk associated with that and so forth.  

 

            I think the bottom line message here is that we and the local officials knew the capacity of this levee system to handle this storm, and that is exactly why the mayor and the governor ordered the evacuation of New Orleans, because they knew that if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane were to strike New Orleans, that this levee system could not be relied upon.  And that is why we evacuated the city.  So had they not done that, the losses could have been even more significant. 

 

            The other question is, in general is the civil works budget of the Army Corps of Engineers suffering because of the war in Iraq?  Not in my opinion.  And the reason I say that is that if you look at the funding levels of the corps from pre-war days of 2001 and 2002, it has been a fairly steady level.  We are spending a lot of money and the Corps of Engineers is involved in the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're able to balance that with our human resources and it is not directly affecting our budget. 

 

            With that, ladies and gentlemen, I know you have some questions, and I'd be happy to go deeper into any of those things I've touched on, or if there are other areas, I'd be happy to discuss those. 

 

            Please start here, sir. 

 

            Q     Once the integrity of the levee has been restored and the city has been de-watered, will you be looking at potential enhancements to the system so that perhaps in the future the system could withstand a Category 4 or 5 storm, or is that technically not feasible? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Sir, those studies are under way now.  We have a study under way to talk about 4 and 5.  The business of flood control is very technical and is very dynamic.  When you put in a system of flood control, many things can change the level of protection that you once had -- development, drainage patterns, weather changes, that sort of thing.  So we're constantly evaluating the level of protection.  In this case, the New Orleans District has had a study -- and these studies take years to accomplish and then many more years to implement, to look at that.  But yes, we are looking at a Category 4 and 5.  And certainly, the government of this country, from the local up to the national level, need to reassess what level of risk is acceptable.   

 

            To try to articulate that, when this project was designed -- and this was designed about 30 years ago, the current one that is now being completed -- we figured we had a 200- or 300-year level of protection.  That means that an event that we were protecting from might be exceeded every 200 or 300 years.  That is a .05 percent likelihood.  So we had an assurance that 99.5 percent this would be okay.  We, unfortunately, have had that .5 percent activity here. 

 

            But yes, sir, we are looking at that.  And this -- obviously, as after the floods of '93, we evaluated our entire approach to flooding, from policy to engineering.  We'll do that in this case. 

 

            Yes, ma'am? 

 

            Q     Two questions.  Wasn't that study to look at upgrading the levees delayed for funding reasons? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  You know, I talked to the study manager about that now, and again, it's a tough thing to talk about.  He feels that he has had an adequate level of funding to move that study ahead.  The nature of the work we do in both the studies and the engineering, some of it is not a question of throwing money at it, there is just analysis that must be done, coordination that must occur.  And so I would prefer to let the people at the level really talk about that from their perspective.  But it's my understanding that that was not a significant issue in this.  And even if that study had been finished three years ago, it would not have made a difference in this event. 

 

            Q     My second question.  Has the Corps been asked to provide any temporary housing, to build any houses of any kind, barracks, tents, anything like that? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Yes, ma'am.  I'm glad you asked that.  I just skimmed over what else we do for FEMA.  One of our responsibilities is temporary housing.  And after the hurricanes in Florida, we went in with FEMA and built, essentially, trailer parks for people to live in. That planning began -- we have general plans on the shelves always,   but specific planning for New Orleans began before landfall.  There is a special task force under FEMA that is focused on that issue.  For example, we are looking at options on a green space to create a city of 50,000 where none exists now.  So we're looking at that kind of option.  But we're also looking at any available housing, military bases or anywhere in the community, to put these people into safe shelter.  So that activity is very much happening. 

 

            Let me go on this side. 

 

            Yes, ma'am. 

 

            Q     I wonder why the refugees are all being shipped off to Houston.  Aren't there military bases that are closer that could care for some of these people? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Ma'am, we've looked at that.  What we need right now is an immediately available facility.  And we're examining the more mid-term and long-range solutions.  But what we felt now was with the rising waters, we had to evacuate the people out of the coliseum, and we continue that evacuation.   

 

            We wanted to get them out of the disaster area, because had we put them anywhere -- I mean, the Astrodome was available, and it was felt to be the most expeditious way to do it.  And certainly we're working for the next step. 

 

            But getting people out of the area -- the challenge here is not only caring for the people, but it's caring for the responders as they get in, who are also facing the same challenges and hardships.  So if we could locate this 20,000 or so people immediately to a safe and secure area, they're able to be taken care of by that community, and it reduces the burden around New Orleans. 

 

            But yes, ma'am, we're looking at all options to relocate people. 

 

            Sir, you've been patient.  Yes, sir? 

 

            Q     You mentioned the temporary housing.  Where is this going to be?  For how many people is it going to be?  When is it going to be opened? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Those are questions that will be answered over time.  We're looking at all -- at a number of options.  We do not have a specific answer.  As far as I know, I would prefer to defer that to the FEMA.  That is really under their leadership.  And we will help with the establishment, once that's decided.  So I really can't comment on the specific options there. 

 

            Q     As a follow-up, you said that -- you mentioned that over time -- I know that there's a lot of criticism right now that time is slipping past and that a lot of people are suffering because there hasn't been a faster federal response.  To what degree has the pace of the federal response exacerbated this catastrophe and caused human suffering? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  I'd be reluctant to comment on that, sir.  I really don't know how to answer that question.  This is a catastrophe like this nation has never suffered before, and we don't have any experience of this level.  So I would not be able to really answer that in an effective way. 

 

            Yes, ma'am? 

 

            Q     As the storm was approaching, was there anything that the corps should have done or could have done to either get more resources down to the area or to shore up some of the -- either the levees or the other facilities there, so that you would have mitigated some of the damage?    

 

            And then, secondly, could you just tell us how many personnel you have in the area now and how many are on the way? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Yes, ma'am.  Well, as far as pre-landfall activities, a lot of that went on.  We mobilized all of the command cells.  And one of the challenges here is, we didn't know exactly where the storm was going to come ashore.  So we set up mobilization centers and concentration sites for people and commodities outside the area, but in -- across the full Gulf Coast.   

 

            The danger is, if you rush in with too much, too soon, then that becomes overwhelmed by the disaster.  So we set up these sites outside of the anticipated landfall area, and then once we see where landfall occurs, then we begin to establish lower-level sites down to local distribution.  And that process is going on now. 

 

            But again, we're contending with very difficult conditions here, where the roads we would send trailers and trucks down are blocked, and in fact the people who would clear those roads have also suffered. So it's a very complex process.  But yes, we have pre-positioned many resources and prepared for that. 

 

            As far as the flooding events in New Orleans are concerned, everyone evacuated the city.  I had a very small element -- my district commander down there weathered the storm on the Mississippi River banks -- but our people moved out as well. 

 

            In a normal flood site, we have people on the levees who are constantly watching for problems along the levee.  And there -- and we have local levee and drainage district people who are ready to respond when those hot spots arrive.   

 

            In this case, we knew that a 4 or 5 hurricane would overwhelm this levee, and so we evacuated the city.  And we didn't want people standing on the levee, looking for leaks, in this kind of a situation. So there was limited action we could -- and by the way, those people are not Corps of Engineers people.  We support that.  But these are the citizens of the area in levee and drainage districts that go out and do this work.  But that's the reason why we had a tough time understanding this. 

 

            How many people are involved?  Right now I have got about 400 people directly involved working for FEMA.  But I've got many hundreds more doing our business with the Corps of Engineers on the waterways and on other parts of the area. 

 

            Just to put it in perspective, in the hurricanes that struck Florida last year, at the high-water mark of our response, we had about 1,700 people on the ground, and we rotated more than 2,000 in. We also drew on other federal agencies, like the Bureau of Reclamation, on the Forest Service, who have people who can get into difficult situations and help us assess and then respond to these conditions.  So we will draw on the full federal family to help us on this.   

 

            Yes, ma'am? 

 

            Q     I want to ask you a broader question.  There have been a lot of reports about -- you said that part of job is ice, generators, that kind of thing. 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Yes, ma'am. 

 

            Q     There have been a lot of reports of hospitals -- don't have generators, don't have food, don't have enough clean water.  Why is it so difficult to get those supplies in, especially to something like a hospital?    

 

            GEN. STROCK:  I think one of the biggest problems we have is communication, knowing where the problems are and then doing the coordination necessary to get the resources to where they're needed. Communication is clearly a problem right now, and I can tell you, not in my lane, but in FEMA they're working very, very hard on that, with all sorts of mobile capabilities. 

 

            So communication has been one of the big aspects.  Even getting into -- remember, we evacuated the city.  And there's tremendous devastation in Mississippi.  While the focus has been on New Orleans, the coast of Mississippi has also received tremendous devastation.  So communicating has been difficult.   

 

            And then access is difficult.  The only reliable way to get into many of these places is by air.  And when we use these precious air assets, we've got to understand what it is we're trying to do with them, and we don't have people just flying around, looking for signals.  So it is a very challenging thing to understand where the needs are and then to get resources to them. 

 

            Yes, sir? 

 

            Q     Sir, can you try again to explain to the public why -- if everybody knew these levees would only take a Category 3 storm, why did they -- weren't they built to 4 and 5?  I mean, it's a complicated answer, I know, but it seems counterintuitive, if you're living there in this powder keg and you don't -- you know what's going to happen -- 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Well, let me draw an example, a parallel.  I -- let me be very careful not to appear callous or draw simple analogies. But San Francisco -- why do people live in San Francisco?  There will be an earthquake in San Francisco.  There will be an earthquake in Los Angeles. There will be an earthquake in Seattle, a devastating earthquake. Why do people live there?  Well, it's because that's where they live. And that -- and it's -- it is sort of the way that the city of New Orleans is what it is. 

 

            What we do is try to put the appropriate level of protection in.  And as I said, the solution here was, for the 99.5 percent of the time this would work.  We did not address the .5 percent. 

 

            It's a combination of doing the engineering, looking at the likelihood of a given storm event, looking at the amount of effort that would be needed to protect the city, in an ironclad way, and then making a decision which is based on engineering judgment and the economics of whether it's worth the cost for the benefit, and then striking the right level of protection.  That is exactly why we're looking at the feasibility of going to a Category 4 or 5. 

 

            The other thing -- it's not just about structures.  The other ways to avoid this are relocation and restricting development in flood plains.  But that's an entirely different subject.   

 

            But at the time that these levees were designed and constructed, it was felt that that was an adequate level, given the probability of an event like this occurring. 

 

            Q     Can I ask you a broad area protection question?  To what extent are the U-2 flights going overhead and the National Reconnaissance Office using spy satellites to help you get a broad- area view of the terrain helpful? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Sir, I can't answer that, because I don't know the answer to that particular question. 

 

            But I do know that a big part of our effort is gathering imagery and really trying to that kind of resource to be able to help us identify the extent of the problem and then to help our responders understand how they can get in and get the resources we need.  That's a big effort, but I can't comment on things like the military U- 2/satellite sort of thing. 

 

            Sir? 

 

            Q     General, I believe you said the air assets are limited in this.  There are about 70 C-130s in the Arkansas National Guard.  Can you tell me why these are unavailable?  

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Well, I didn't say they were unavailable.  And really, the military airlift, again, is not my responsibility. 

 

            There is -- there certainly is a finite availability.  The real -- within the immediate task of saving lives here, it's our rotary wing fleet. And I know that that fleet is growing daily, and it's fairly sizeable.  I don't know the numbers.  I'm not responsible for that. 

 

            But certainly airlift is committed.  I have been in the various meetings and coordinations, and the availability of C-130s is certainly there, and they will be there when they can provide that support. 

 

            Q     And a quick follow-up:  You're in the airborne.  Do you see the advantage of possibly dropping food and supplies to people who are, for example, in hospitals and are cut off? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  You know, I think, in this particular situation, that is something that is feasible.  But what you have to do is know where to drop it and what to drop.  That's a challenge.  But --  

 

            Q     But when you have, say, 25,000 people at the convention center, at the Superdome, isn't it fairly easy to say, "This is where the people are; let's drop some supplies"? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  That's the kind of question that General Honore from the Joint Chiefs -- from the joint task force would look at about those sorts of things.  He's a very experienced officer.  And General Landreneau, who's the AG of Louisiana, is also a very experienced officer.  They will consider options like that.   

 

            But there are -- you know, there are pluses and minuses to any solution you want to put in place.  So -- yes, sir? 

 

            Q     Do you think that should have been done there?  I mean, we had 20,000 people in one location.  You can drop stuff by air, and it was pre-positioned.  Why couldn't you have gotten into the convention center -- 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  I can't comment on that.  I think the military guys would be better able to do that.  You know, there's an efficiency and an effectiveness thing here.  The most effective way to move things in right now I think would be on water over the Mississippi.  And I know that's being considered as a way of getting people out of the city.  We're also looking at rail. So we're looking at all options.  And I just really can't comment on which one of those was considered and why we selected to do it the way we did. 

 

            Yes, sir? 

 

            Q     If I can -- 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Let me get you next, sir, and then -- 

 

            Q     Sure.   

 

            Q     Back to the communications, actually I have two questions. Can you help me understand why your communications systems don't work when part of your job is to work in these kind of austere conditions, and what you might have to do in the future to fix that; what you're learning from this.   

 

            And also, you mentioned that they knew and we knew what would happen if there was a Cat 4 or 5.  What did FEMA know, what did they understand about what to expect, what kind of circumstances they were going to be dealing with in New Orleans after that storm?  What should they have been prepared to deal with?  What did they -- 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Well, a couple of questions.   

 

            On communications, again that's not my area of expertise, but I want to draw the distinction between military communications and civil communications.  Essentially, the civil communications infrastructure in that part of the country has been wiped out.  So with the heavy reliance on cell phones and wireless technology now, the cell phone towers just simply don't exist anymore, so that's the problem.   The military forces do have adequate communications.  My responders have adequate communications.  But the people who have the problems are unable to communicate their requirements.   

 

            So it's a very complex issue.  It has nothing to do with the military's ability to do command and control and coordination of our response; it's the linkage in to the people who are victims and communicating with them.   

 

            Sir, as far as what did we know, we, working with FEMA, understand that there are certain areas of the country vulnerable to certain disasters.  I pointed out the earthquake threat earlier. There's a typhoon threat, there's a tsunami threat.  We have a process called Catastrophic Disaster Response Planning, and that is anticipating a Category 4 or 5 hurricane coming ashore somewhere in the United States.  In fact, we have had a scenario in New Orleans where we looked into that eventuality.  We've done similar things with the lower Cascadia subduction zone up in the Seattle/Portland area. And we do a worst-case exercise to try to get at the questions that need to be answered, and try to understand when decisions need to be made and what sort of decisions need to be made.  So in this case, one of the critical things about New Orleans was we understood if the intensity of the storm was expected to exceed Category 3, the answer was evacuation.  So I would say in that case the decision-making was informed by exercising and pre-planning. 

 

            Q     I don't want to get you in trouble with the commander in chief, but in an interview yesterday, he said basically nobody could have envisioned that these breaches were going to flood New Orleans. I mean, is that something -- it sounds like you understand and that people in the Army Corps of Engineers understood, and there must have been people at FEMA who understood that this was not necessarily a likelihood, but there was definitely a probability that New Orleans would flood and that bowl would fill up. 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Well, I guess it would depend on how tight you want to call that.  We think that the level of protection around that city was with a 99.5 percent probability.  So it was an extremely unlikely event that has occurred, and it has occurred. 

 

            Q     Were you surprised when it happened.  I mean -- 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Was I surprised when it happened?   

 

            Q     Yeah. 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  You know, I really don't express surprise in my business.  We look ahead at what we think is coming.  We try to prepare for it, and then we respond to it.  We don't sit around and say, "Gee whiz"; we get to work, roll up our sleeves and go to work.   

 

            So, I mean, what I express is a sense of terrible tragedy and loss and a sense of urgency to get in and make things right, to help create the conditions for a recovery.  I'm sorry to sound melodramatic here, but -- sir? 

 

            Q     How long do you expect it to take to rebuild New Orleans? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  That's a question that's beyond my ability to comment, because a lot of decisions will need to be made here.  They may not choose to develop the entire site.  It's taken us a long time on the World Trade Center to decide just what to do.  So that's a decision others will make, and we'll contribute to the execution of that. 

 

            Sir, you had a question earlier; I'm sorry. 

 

            Q     I know that you're not really able to say how long it's going to take to get the water out of the city, but can you give us any idea of what, you know, an optimistic -- or a worst-case/best-case timeline?   Are we talking about weeks?  Are we talking about months? Are we talking about a longer time? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Sir, we're certainly talking weeks, but I'd be hesitant to say anything more than that.  I can assure you, though, that as soon as we do the analysis and we feel like we can give people a level of confidence in predictability of the future, we will do that.  And people are working very hard at that right now, looking at levels of inundation, depths of water.  And we're looking at, as I said, various courses of action -- 100-foot gaps, 3,000-foot gaps, pump efficiency, how many pumps we can get on, availability of electricity.  There are so many variables, I'd be reluctant to put a number up that I would then have to live with or celebrate if I come in under it.  I think we need to just give some time to work it. 

 

            Q     Is there any resource that you need or could use that you don't have? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Well, I'm sure there is.  I don't know the answer to that.  We're asking all those questions now.  We know that we have had an overwhelming offer of response from every area in this country. We are very close in the Corps of Engineers with the private industry. We have worked very closely on a pro bono way with people from the navigation industry who have helped us survey and make assessments and help us set priorities.  The construction industry has stood up and is saying we are standing ready for your call.  Our challenge is, of course, is setting priorities in terms of actual specific things we're going to do and then making the conditions such that we can get the responders in to the sites.

 

               The real focus right now is saving lives and sustaining lives and then creating the conditions for the beginning of a recovery here.   

 

            So we have a lot of people thinking about those things.  And I know that we have the capacity in this country that's poised and ready; it's just a question of when and where and how to do it.  But I'm confident. 

 

            For example, in my agency, if you go to our website you will see that there is a place where a contractor can sign up and say, "I have this capability and I am ready to come," and they are doing that. 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Let me go down here, sir, and just take one down here. 

 

            STAFF:  -- (inaudible) -- make this the last one. 

 

            Q     Sir, considering that you had the 99.5 percent protection, do you feel that there was enough prepositioning of supplies, exercising or training or educating of people in New Orleans, in the hospitals, in the police force, to prepare them for this event, or was that sort of set aside since it wasn't expected for 200 or 300 years? 

 

            GEN. STROCK: Sir, again, I think that question would be better answered by those who have responsibility for the full recovery, because so many of the elements you talk to there are something I really can't comment on.   

 

            I can tell you from my agency's perspective, while it's difficult to say that anyone would be prepared for a disaster of this response, we have mechanisms in place.  And let me illustrate that.  New Orleans, we knew if we had an event like this, they would be victims and they would be unable to respond to a disaster in their area, so it's our Memphis District up the river, who understands the river and has a relationship with New Orleans, that is responsible for the de- watering of the city.  The people from New Orleans who understand it will be working with them and giving them advice and assistance, but our Memphis District, who is out of the disaster area, will be coming in and actually managing the effort.   

 

            And it's not just Memphis it's literally our people from around the world will come forward.  We have standing teams of people who provide ice, water, power, roofing, that are trained and ready that come in for emergencies like this, and they're in all of our districts across the country.  And again, it's a federal team that's coming.  We work for FEMA, and other agencies come to our assistance, like the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service coming and helping us with this business. 

 

            One of the principal things we'll do is debris removal, and that has always been one of the critical elements because you have to remove debris to get access for the other responders.  So that will be really one of the principal focuses of the corps.  Our role in the delivery of ice and water is to deliver to the bulk distribution points, where it's taken by the state and locals, who understand better where the needs are, and they do the local distribution.   

 

            But we do have -- we have significant planning in this area. It's just the intensity of the storm, the magnitude of the disaster is something that we're struggling with.  We have not had a situation like this in a very long time, if ever. 

 

            Q     Thank you. 

 

            Q     Can I just try to press you for a time frame?  Three to six weeks, 10 to 12? 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Sir, I can't comment on any times right now. Again, just to even get access and to begin doing the analysis is so difficult.  We're focused on saving lives, sustaining lives and getting people out of the disaster area and setting the conditions for recovery.  We will, as quickly as we can, begin to give information on our expectations on the time that these things will take.  I know that people really want to know that, and so we'll make an effort to do that. 

 

            Q     Thank you, General. 

 

            GEN. STROCK:  Thank you very much. 

 

            Q     Thank you.

 

 

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