Fix the pumps

Friday, September 29, 2006

Problems at the floodgates - Part 1

Readers coming here from, please realize there's much more to this site than just this one post. Please take time to look around. There's a link to the second part of this story at the bottom of this part. Or click the title above to see the whole blog. Now, on to the special report...

It's funny what happens when you start a blog. You find out how big the internet is. Lots of people who you didn't know before start contacting you.

One such person is someone I'll call "Deep Flood." Deep Flood is not associated with the Corps of Engineers or any of its contractors. Deep Flood sent me the pictures of the outfall floodgate sites you'll see below and in future postings. The pictures were taken within the last two weeks. They form the basis for a five part special series of reports starting today. The storylines they tell... well, they'll emerge as you read each part.

The problems these photos - and my text - will document over this series are not the ones you've heard about in the media, but in many respects they are just as serious. They are problems with security, with safety, with the environment, and with the Corps' sense of urgency. They make one ask big questions about the floodgates, like "How robust is the design?" and "Will they work at all?"

These are not problems the Corps would willingly admit to, so I'm giving them a push. At the end, I'll give you some suggestions on how to make your voice heard as well. Because all of New Orleans is depending on the Corps to do things right and to do things quickly at the floodgates. From what I've seen, they are doing neither.

First, a little orientation. Here's a very recent overhead shot of the 17th Street canal floodgate site. It was taken from the Corps' own website, and according to the caption, dates from September 14, 2006.

This picture is looking from the lake back toward New Orleans. So the camera is facing roughly south (the canal is on an almost direct north-south line). The gates themselves are toward the middle bottom of the picture. You can see the pumps just to the south of the gates (remember, south is up in this picture) and their discharges on the north side. I've labeled the platforms that hold the diesel drive units for the pumps (the yellow things on each platform are the actual engines). There are a bunch more yellow engines across the deck of the gate structure. These power other pumps that are actually on the structure itself. I've also noted the locations of expansions of pumping capacity. Note that the Jefferson side is still waiting for a previously announced quartet of pumps. On the Orleans side, two extra are planned, but only one has been installed.

Many of the pictures below are in the vicinity of the east drive platform.

Today: Part One - Security

Part 1: Security
Let's first look at the massive lack of even basic security. It is apparent from the pictures below that anyone can go anywhere on these sites. At 17th Street, there are large gates at each of the three vehicular entrances fronting Old Hammond Highway. You can see the locations on a map here (the satellite photo is obviously pre-Katrina). I've called them "Main gate," "West bank gate," and "East bank gate." Here's a picture from the Corps of Engineers website dated September 14, 2006, on which I've annotated the gate locations.

The security gates look very impressive from the street. They're eight foot high chain link fence with a sturdy chain and padlock. The problem is that they are a Potemkin Village. Because when you go to the back of the site on the Orleans Parish side…

It's wide open. There are no gates or fences. One can walk anywhere…

…Up on the deck next to the gates themselves

…Or around the area at ground level on the Jefferson Parish side…

And it's not just the 17th Street canal site. The same situation exists at the London Avenue floodgates, which are complete. The fences, what there are of them, are wide open for anyone to tour the sites for themselves. There's no cameras, security guards, or even lights on the gate structures to deter someone from mischief.

You can walk up to the gates, which is bad enough.

But even worse, you can walk right up to the diesel engines. These are on the west side of the canal.

And take a battery for your truck if you wanted…

The battery on these diesel engines functions the same as on the engines in your car. Without a battery, the engine can't be started.

And of course, one has to walk past the control house to get to the engines. One would assume the control house would be locked. It's not

That’s the control panel for the pumps, totally unlocked. Click on the picture and you can zoom in to see the actual controls. Explanations of what you see are available in the Floodgates Operating Manual.

There are three rooms in each of the control houses (there are two control houses at each floodgate site. The houses are done at London and Orleans Avenues, but remain wholly incomplete at 17th Street). Here's another of the rooms:

The silver cabinet is labeled as "London Ave. ICS, PLC Panel" There are tons of control wires and sensitive pieces of equipment inside that cabinet.

Disappointingly, the Corps knows they're supposed to be watching this stuff. It shows up in their own regulations. The Corps has their own safety manual, which the contractor at 17th Street is supposed to adhere to. The manual is EM 385-1-1. Chapter 11, which is the electrical section, has this to say about security around electrical equipment:

"Transformer banks and high voltage equipment shall be protected from unauthorized access; entrances not under constant observation shall be kept locked; metallic enclosures shall be grounded; and signs warning of high voltage and prohibiting unauthorized entrance shall be posted at entrances."

Clearly, none of this is happening.

The very fact that these pictures could even be taken by someone not associated with the jobs is scary enough. What if Deep Flood were some mischievious teenager, or a small child, or - worst of all - someone with more nefarious motives? How can the U.S. Army of all organizations ignore security? Especially when many of the senior military leadership in the New Orleans District and the Mississippi Valley Division have done tours of duty in Iraq, where everything is about security?

Conclusion: Even the most basic security measures have been neglected at the three most important construction sites in New Orleans, leaving vulnerable vital equipment that is meant to keep the city safe.

Please read the rest of the story! Or, take a look at the rest of the blog at

Next: Part 2 - Workplace Safety


  • Thank you for documenting this. Really outstanding. Not to mention outrageous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 29, 2006 2:59 PM  

  • you think with the ACOE being so diligent in butchering the canopy along the levees, which are at least 50 feet from the base of the levee rise, they would be somewhat concerned about locking the doors to the pump controls

    (((((((shakes head)))))))

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 02, 2006 6:11 PM  

  • any word on additional pumps for 17th street?

    By Blogger LAP, at April 18, 2007 11:32 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Go to older posts Go to newer posts