Hurricane Katrina Truth #2 – New Orleans Will Flood Again – Find Out Why & How to Stop It

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By Gerard Braud

As we remember Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, there needs to be strong communication from experts about how natural defenses, such as coastal marshes, can avert a crisis, such as hurricane flooding. Coastal marshes have been disappearing at an alarming rate of 33 football fields a day for decades. How does this affect you? Read on…

Existing erosion is a story that needs to be told before too much attention is shifted to other environmental issues, which is the rise of sea level. The Weather Channel is showing a program focused on a Hurricane Katrina impact in 2065, based on projected sea level rise. President Obama is also expected to focus on how climate change will affect coastal regions when he visits New Orleans during this anniversary week.

But a greater, unaddressed concern for me is the fact that tidal surge in every hurricane can be reduced by healthy coastal wetlands today. However, the coastal wetlands near New Orleans have been eroding away since levees were first were built along the Mississippi River in the 1930s. Those disappearing wetlands take away nature’s natural line of defense, which is why they need to be restored.

In a 1995 documentary I wrote the words, “Every day Louisiana loses 33 football fields of land, an inch here and an inch there.”

The documentary was called Reversing the Tide, but little has happened in the 20 years since then, except a few pilot projects, more studies, and more talk. A master plan has been created, but too much time is passing without real action.

Hurricane-BarrierScientists say that roughly three miles of healthy, vegetated wetlands can reduce a storm surge by one foot. In some studies based on actual storms, a single mile of wetlands reduced storm surge by one foot. Ironically, one of the major studies on wetland benefits was done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been in charge of building major flood walls around New Orleans, without building major wetlands in front of those walls.

Just outside of those billion dollar concrete walls built since Hurricane Katrina is now water, that just a few decades ago was land. Based on interviews I’ve done with experts over the past 30 years, my belief is a sizeable chunk of money should have been used to rebuild coastal marshes and natural defenses, rather than only on modern engineering marvels that will be topped again by a hurricane’s storm surge.

As constructed now, these walls are the equivalent of placing them on a seashore against violent waves. But if sediment from the Mississippi River is pumped into the marshes to rebuild vegetated wetlands, sixty miles of wetlands, in theory, it would reduce a twenty foot tidal surge to only a few feet of sea level rise. This would put low water levels and waves lapping against these walls rather than the force of a major ocean at maximum fury. And as sea levels rise from climate change, the rebuilding of wetlands can be a sustainable effort.

I’ve spent untold hours in these coastal areas with fishermen, scientists, environmental activist, and engineers. Decades have passed with the various parties at odds. Environmentalists worry about pollutants in the sediments from the Mississippi River. Fishermen worry about losing money as their current fishing waters turns back into land, as it was 50 years ago. Scientists and engineers fight about the best way to tackle the task, often resulting in little or no action. Politicians, who should be funding the projects, are blind to the fact that money spent today in the right way, is a better bet than paying for the massive clean up and restoration of communities, as seen in Hurricane Katrina.

Here are the realities as I see them.

  1. Human engineering created the problem when citizens and politicians asked for levees to be built along the Mississippi River after the great flood of 1927. Marshes are naturally created over thousands of years as annual spring flooding deposits silt and nutrients into the wetlands. The wetlands provide natural storm protection and a healthy ecosystem for fish, birds and wildlife. These marshes are also a natural filtration system that removes pollutants from our earth. Restoring the marshes and reversing the tide must be a priority.
  1. In a modern economy, money mitigates opposition. Commercial fishing is a major part of the economy in this region. Fishermen today, catch fish in areas that consisted of land just a few years ago. This region is a delicate ecosystem with a precarious blend of fresh, salt, and brackish water. The balance has been upset for 50 years. Reversing the trend and the tide, by rebuilding land, will cause a temporary balance change. It can restore a traditional balance and create long-term benefit, but only after a short-term upset. To do this, fishermen will need the same type of financial support congress grants to a farmer who loses his or her crops because of a drought. Pay it, be done with it, and move on with fixing a problem.
  1. The Mississippi River is constantly being dredged to keep navigation channels open for shipping. For decades, the silt has been dumped in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve watched test projects done in which the dredged sand is piped over the river levees and into the eroding wetland. This process can build hundreds of acres of land in just a few days. It is the fastest and lowest cost way to restore the land that has eroded away. The negative impacts on the environment, the fisheries, and the fishermen are far outweighed by the positive impact it will eventually have on the environment, the fisheries, the fishermen, and natural hurricane protection.

The greatest harm comes when humans get in nature’s way. The greatest benefit would be to give nature a helping hand to heal the wounds that we have helped create.



Hurricane Katrina Truth #1 – Silver Linings in Muddy Waters – Thank You


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By Gerard Braud

The Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary has to begin with the words thank you.

The silver lining in the muddy waters was the overwhelming outpouring of help from around the world. Untold volunteers left their lives behind to travel to our region to give their time and talents. Many others donated money to aid in the recovery.

The region is still recovering, but the kindness shared from around the world has made a huge difference.

Recovery involves a combination of rebuilding with brick and mortar, as well as rebuilding the heart, soul and spirit of the communities and the people who make up those communities.

It is always gratifying to be able to share a personal thank you when I’m invited to speak at conferences and conventions in the New Orleans area. Here are some observations and thoughts I recently shared during a keynote speech about the silver lining in the muddy waters.

When “It” Hits the Fan – Hurricane Season Readiness & Effective Communications

hurricane seasonBy Gerard Braud

Forecasters are watching for what might be the development of the first hurricane of 2015.  This happens just as the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association (LEPA) meets in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in advance of the official hurricane season.

I’m delivering the opening keynote presentation to LEPA emergency managers this morning as we look at how effective communications is changing. Emergency managers are being called upon to not only use all of their traditional crisis communications methods, but how to also incorporate social media and mobile technology.

Whether you are part of this group or not, you can take advantage of the lessons being shared using the resources below.

I’ve prepared two handouts for the group, which can be downloaded here:

Weathering the Storm

Leadership When “It” Hits the Fan

If you’d like to perfect your skills for creating effective videos to communicate with your audiences during a disaster, I encourage you to watch this 23 lesson tutorial.

Also, when a crisis strikes you you need to hold a fast news conference or issue a fast statement, I strongly recommended that people use my first critical statement as a fast alternative to writing a formal press release. To get a free download use the coupon code CRISISCOMPLAN when you select the item from my shopping cart.


My Mentor is Dead

Wiley-HilburnWiley Hilburn, Jr. has died. He is the man who shaped my writing and my career as a journalist. Each day, I think of myself first as a writer, knowing that writing is the root of my media training and crisis communications programs. Likewise, my skills as a journalist and television reporter, cultivated by Wiley, allowed me to have two great careers that have sent me circling the globe.

The death of Wiley Hilburn, Jr. is not breaking news. January 16, 2015 marks one year since his passing. Although a year has passed, I think of him often because he is alive in me. Not only is he alive in me, but he is alive in the pens and keyboards of journalists and public relations people across America.

Wiley was the head of the Louisiana Tech Journalism Department. He launched young journalists, like a parent should launch their children. Wiley nudged us, the way a mocking bird nudges a chick from the nest. He made sure we could fly. He nudged more than a few chicks out of the nest knowing they were better off eaten by a cat than to be in a newsroom. If you had the right stuff, Wiley praised you and nurtured your writing. If you didn’t have the gift for writing, he didn’t mince words in advising you to seek another career path. Every quarter he would bring each writer for the Tech Talk student newspaper in for a personal evaluation of their clipping file. We used to take bets in the newsroom as to who would leave Wiley’s office crying after his evaluation.

He was also famous for his back-of-the-classroom private evaluations about what you wrote for each class assignment. He never knew everyone could hear him until the day he praised me for having no misspelled words, just a week after giving me a C on a paper, upon which he wrote, “I’d like to take this to the Shreveport Times, where I’m known as a horrible speller, just to prove there is someone who spells worse than me.” On the day he gave me his “private” praise, the class stood and applauded. Wiley turned beat red and asked, “Have ya’ll always been able to hear all of my evaluations?” Wiley and I laughed about that day every time we visited. After my first week as a television reporter – a job he helped me secure – he sent a handwritten note that said, “You are doing great Gerard. As far as I can tell from your reports there are no misspelled words. You were made for TV.”

My creative writing style has never come close to Wiley’s. I’m envious of great creative writers who have a true gift of describing details and sounds and scents and moods. News and television writing were the places where I found my comfort zone.

Wiley took Mark Twain’s advice to write what you know. His writing was brilliant enough that he could have lived and worked anywhere, but he chose to stay close to home, living in Ruston, Louisiana writing as a columnist for the Shreveport Times and the Monroe News-Star. His columns were about the people, places, and unique little tidbits that only people along this Bible Belt region of Louisiana could appreciate.

My friend Bob Mann wrote of Wiley’s death one year ago as, “The Passing of a Louisiana Journalism Giant.”

Indeed, we all looked up to Wiley. And he always looked at us over his heavy rimmed glasses, which were broken at one hinge and held together with Scotch tape for most of the years that he was my professor. His thinning hair was always tousled. Wrinkles in suit never bothered him.

My hope for each of you is that there is someone special in your life who was pivotal in shaping your career. I hope you remember them with great fondness the way I remember Wiley today.

By Gerard Braud