The people who made the levees hold

September 2, 2008
By: Tim Heston

The levees held.

At least at this writing. Absorbing the news stories last night and this morning, I saw that most people held cautious optimism. We"re not out of the woods yet, but Gustav was no Katrina, and New Orleans did not turn into a giant, murky cesspool as it did three years ago.

As the country collectively exhaled last night (and I hope not prematurely), I noticed a fair amount of media attention on the levees and the people who build and monitor them. Maj. Gen. Don T. Riley, deputy commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, told newspapers that the levee on the Industrial Canal, the one that failed during Katrina and caused such havoc in the Lower Ninth Ward, this time held the water at bay. We may have seen some overwashing and interior flooding, but the city pumps kept up with that, he told the Washington Post.

"Right now, we feel we're not going to have a true inundation," Karen Durham-Aguilera told the Dallas Morning News. The official is directing the Corps' $15 billion, three-year-old (and unfinished) project to rebuild the city"s levee and pump system.

The quotes, wonderfully matter-of-fact, were made by two busy people with important responsibilities, and those don"t include giving fancy quotes to the press.

For me, the fact the storm didn"t destroy the levees sent a message on Labor Day of how important some workers are, particularly those in science, engineering, and manufacturing. Where would New Orleans be today without engineers versed in fluid dynamics and structural mechanics, or without the manufacturers who helped rebuild the city"s destroyed infrastructure after Katrina? The job isn"t finished yet, but progress has been made, and without it Gustav"s punch would have left a bigger bruise. The country has technical people to thank for that.

The world needs leadersbe they company executives or politiciansto organize and mobilize people into action. It needs financial folks to facilitate responsible lending and borrowing (note the key word, responsible) to lubricate the economy; without capital, the economy grinds to a halt.

But today more than ever, the labor force needs technical experts to rebuild and improve our country"s infrastructure. They"re not likely to give reporters quotes that will inspire, but they will hunker down and get the job done.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
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