An Engineers’ Role in Hurricane Disaster Prevention and Relief

Hurricane Ida, a powerful category 4 storm, left all of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana in the dark when it completely destroyed the electric grid. The true scope of the destruction is just beginning to come to light as six people have lost their lives and more than one million are left without power. Officials are warning some residents that it could be 21 days before power is restored. They also say it could be five days until the water and sewer system is up and running again. Unfortunately, this is a pain that many New Orleans residents know all too well. Hurricane Ida arrived exactly 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina. One fortunate result of Hurricane Katrina was the construction of New Orleans’s storm-risk-reduction system.

New Orleans’s storm-risk-reduction system is a 14.5 billion dollar system constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other local, state, and federal agencies. It consists of flood-walls, levees, and a pump system to siphon out excess water. So far the system has worked successfully through Hurricane Ida’s landfall. The construction and execution of New Orleans’s storm-risk-reduction system is only one example of the important role engineering plays in hurricane destruction prevention and relief. 

When it comes to destruction prevention from natural disasters such as hurricanes, Civil Engineers are our first line of defense. When designing infrastructure they must take into consideration the ability to withstand extreme winds, flooding, and rain-induced landslides. Buildings within hurricane prone areas must be built differently than those more inland. For example when heavy wind pushes against the roof of a building, negative pressures against it can cause the roof to become detached. Once a roof is detached from the building, the whole structure becomes weak and has the potential to collapse. To avoid building failure, the Civil Engineer must know that anchoring the roof to the foundation of the building is key to defending the building against destructive high winds. 

In the wake of a deadly disaster Civil Engineers also provide relief by disaster mitigation. Disaster mitigation minimizes the suffering of individuals affected after a natural disaster. This is done by building shelters, streamlining logistical strategies for reducing food and water shortages, and facilitating evacuation routes. In addition engineers have assisted with the rescue of individuals by the use of drones. Drones can be used to capture images and locations of people who need to be rescued. This is an easier, safer, and more efficient rescue effort than having a team physically search for stranded people via boat. 

The importance of engineers both before and after a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, can not be overlooked. Engineers assist in the strategies to prevent destruction and in the relief efforts exerted after such destruction takes place. 


1 Campo-Flores, A., & Wolfe, R. (2021, August 30). Hurricane Ida leaves more than 1 million without power in Louisiana. The Wall Street Journal.
3 Gullion, S. (2020, May 4). How civil engineers help during disaster recovery. Keck & Wood Civil Engineers, Duluth, Fayetteville GA, Rock Hill, North Charleston SC.

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