Could Geofoam save a community? It possibly might but you are probably wondering how. We recently enjoyed a mental exercise: would the use of our Geofoam product might be beneficial in deterring damage from acts of nature? Forces like hurricanes, heavy rains and the like have recently been topics of interest in the news; how might we help?
Geofoam, with a little help from elasticized geosynthetics could protect levees, sidewalls, embankments, rail and road beds against hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as other natural disasters. Mother Nature seems to be producing more violent storms, and are increasing in number, small and large worldwide and seem to be part of life. Geofoam and other geosynthetics can’t supply the complete solution to saving lives, preventing disaster or the destruction of property, but it can help. In the case of the New Orleans Levee system (built in the 1930’s) failing in 2005’s Katrina, Geofoam wasn’t included in the upgrading that has occurred for decades prior to the nation’s greatest natural disaster ever.
Coastal areas, underground pipelines, nuclear power plants, refineries, fault-line areas and anywhere a natural disaster can occur is where Geofoam can be utilized. The field of geotechnical engineering study has been occurring since man tried to move outside of the cave and create domestic structures. Of course, no home constructed by man could outperform a cave, that is if you discount flooding.
Early man learned over time that structure improvements were a critical part of construction. They used the strongest materials to thwart the storms, but to little avail until things got serious, and they built with stone.
We’ve come a long way from that point, and much has been learned. However, study continues and one day systems will be defined that help to minimize the damage and loss of life natural disasters generate.
One day we’ll have structures that are impermeable and impervious to the forces of nature. Until that day arrives, we must learn all we can, become better prepared for the inevitable, and focus on safety as a global concern. Geofoam and geosynthetics can contribute quite a lot to enhancing soil stability, foundation soundness and lower cost construction.
I’ve been doing my best these past several months to identify the value of Geofoam, and its multitude of uses. Geofoam is a tremendous product to be used in many applications, and provides strength and durability when utilized properly in retaining wall, levee, roadbed and other commercial construction projects. Geofoam provides the solution to unstable soils, shifting and pressure from all directions.
A few years back, in New Orleans
It’s hard to believe it is more than 10 years since the disaster in Louisiana known as Katrina. Hurricane Katrina’s extensive damage and loss of life could have been lessened had their levee system been brought up to date. There’ loads of evidence that the Army Corps of Engineers, the responsible constructor has continually faced budgetary restrictions, time pressures, and often the butt of jokes since the disaster, although the truth didn’t reveal itself immediately. Although fingers pointed in several directions as to the root cause of the city flooding, it boils down to lack of expertise, the truth and geosynthetics.
This taken from the WSWS.org website:
The levees were originally built with an armoring consisting solely of Bermuda grass, which was later deemed insufficient; it is to be replaced by a more complex system of plastic matting anchored to the levee and then covered in grass. Indications are that this armoring will now not be installed until after the levees have been raised. While the Flood Protection Authority for the east bank has directed the Corps of Engineers to use the more robust grass-and-mat armoring system on its levees, its counterpart on the west bank has challenged the corps’ plans to use this system on its portion, preferring instead the cheaper and less effective Bermuda grass armoring. “On our side of the river, it makes sense to raise the levee, rather than installing the enhanced turf matting that needs to be picked up in a few years, with all that money wasted,” authority president Susan Maclay told the Times Picayune .
Note the statement; the levees need to be raised. Yes, they are sinking, and there is pressure to have them raised (several feet) by the time for the National Flood Insurance recertification in 2025. Truth is stranger than fiction.
As stated by other experts regarding the levee failures can be found online, as evidenced by the citation above.
While Geofoam didn’t exist in the 1930’s when the levee system was first constructed, had they been updated with modern engineering technologies like Geofoam and geosynthetics, things could have been different. The poor design of the pre-Katrina levee system, installed piecemeal over the course of many decades, led to their breach in 2005, resulting in catastrophic flooding in over 80 percent of the city. The faulty design was, in large part, due to extreme funding pressures—improvements to the system planned after Hurricane Betsy in 1965 were still uncompleted when Hurricane Katrina hit.
Unfortunately, the outdated and ineffective levee system in New Orleans has been discussed, analyzed, dissected, cursed at, litigated and decried since they were first built in the founding of the settlement in 1718, and subsequently repaired and replaced, updated and reconfigured, as depicted from the following historical statement:
“The settlement was also prone to periodic flooding by the Mississippi River (between April and August), and flooding and wind damage from hurricanes between June and October. Added to this was abysmally poor drainage, created by unfavorable topography, lying just a few feet above sea level on the deltaic plain of the Mississippi River, which is settling at a rate of between 2 and 10 feet (ft) per century. The tendency for flooding during late spring and summer runoff came to characterize the settlement. The natural swamps north of the original city were referred to as “back swamps” in the oldest maps, and “cypress swamps” on maps made after 1816. During the steamboat era (post 1810), New Orleans emerged as the major trans-shipment center for river borne to sea-borne commerce, vice-versa, and as a major port of immigration.”
What Have We Learned from Hurricane Katrina?
Flooding of the New Orleans Area by Hurricanes strike the Louisiana Coast with a mean frequency of two every three years (Kolb and Saucier, 1982). Since 1759, 172 hurricanes have struck southern Louisiana (Shallat, 2000). Of these, 38 have caused flooding in New Orleans, usually via Lake Pontchartrain. Some of the more notable events have included: 1812, 1831, 1860, 1893, 1915, 1940, 1947, 1965, 1969, and 2005.
Woulda’, Coulda’, Shoulda’
We know from history that the drainage canal systems, the pumping stations failures and the shifting soils of the outdated levee system all failed, creating the costliest natural disaster in US history.
The 700+-page report was funded with $230,000 from the National Science Foundation, another $50,000 from UC Berkeley’s Center for Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), and the donated time of 36 professional engineers and scientists from around the nation. The team studied every stretch of the levee system, either on the ground or from the air, conducted soil tests and ran computer simulations.
Its results differ from those of many previous reports, in particular that of the Corps’ own Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce (IPET). According to Seed