Coastal Engineers Present Katrina Findings in Japan

Japan is a country where significant economic activities are concentrated in the coastal areas, where it has also suffered substantial losses from both hurricanes and tsunamis. In an effort to learn more from recent coastal disasters, the Japan government invited an ASCE team to present a seminar on the Hurricane Katrina Disaster. The seminar was held on June 8 in Tokyo, Japan, and was organized by Dr. Shigeo Takahashi of the Port and Airport Research Institute (PARI). Additional sponsors included the Coastal Development Institute of Technology (CDIT), the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) and the Japan Society of Civil Engineers (JSCE). This was the third seminar on hurricanes and storm surges in Japan sponsored by PARI.

The ASCE team was organized by Dr. Billy L. Edge (COPRI President) of Texas A&M University, and it included Dr. Robert A. Dalrymple (COPRI Past President) of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Peter G. Nicholson (Geo-Institute) of the University of Hawaii, and Dr. Jeffrey A. Melby (COPRI) of the U.S. Army, Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. Drs. Edge and Nicholson are members of the ASCE External Review Panel (ERP), and Dr. Melby has been involved in the federal government's Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) studies. The ERP is a panel of experts conducting an expert review of the work performed by the IPET.

After Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, ASCE sent two teams to New Orleans, one from the Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute, led by Tony Dalrymple, and the other from the Geo-Institute, led by Peter Nicholson, to join with a team from the University of California, Berkeley, and a data-gathering team from the Engineering Research Development Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These teams comprised the first engineering group to seek answers to the failure of the levees and floodwalls of the city of New Orleans. The COPRI team also included a member from Japan (Shigenobu Tanaka) and one from the Netherlands (Jurjen Battjes, who also participates as an ERP member).

Shortly after this team began its work in New Orleans, teams of researchers from Japan came to investigate both the damage to the city and the impacted Gulf Coast shorelines. The Japanese teams from several institutions were examining the effects of the hurricane because Japan is subject to typhoons, which cause similar damage from storm surges and waves. Many Japanese cities have significant areas below the design surge level, with exposed populations in the millions.

The seminar was attended by 300 Japanese researchers, government officials, planners, engineers and the press. During the seminar, Professor Tomotsuka Takayama, Kyoto University, and Professor Masahiko Isobe, University of Tokyo, presented proposed plans for storm surge control measures in areas below sea level similar to New Orleans. The ASCE team presented a summary of the Hurricane Katrina studies, the first field investigations, geotechnical levee issues, and future plans for the Louisiana coastline.

As part of the visit, PARI hosted the ASCE team at one of their storm surge research facilities. Mr. Masatoshi Mitsutomi, Director of the Tokyo Port Flood Control Office, provided a site visit to the Tokyo Bay metropolitan storm surge protection system. This system is responsible for protecting several million people from storm surges. It is composed of nineteen storm surge gates that are operated locally or remotely, and four pumping stations for removal of rainfall, inflow, discharges and overtopping. All of the surge gates are equipped with video monitoring systems and independent power supplies. The storm surge protection system incorporates renovated canals that are now open for public access, improving the quality of life along them.

At the conclusion of the visit to Japan, the ASCE team was invited to the JSCE headquarters to discuss the site visit information and subsequent analyses of the damages from Hurricane Katrina observed by the JSCE team. The JSCE presented a proposal to develop an MOU with COPRI for damage assessment cooperation to natural disasters from tsunamis and typhoon related storm surges. Both ASCE and JSCE look forward to working together to learn from and help mitigate the impact and destruction of future storms to our coastlines around the world.