MIT professors quoted on Hurricane Katrina


In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, news reporters consulted MIT experts about the science of hurricanes and the protection and rebuilding of cities.

Some excerpts from the resulting articles are below. Please note that links may expire and/or require registration.

Joshua Angrist

Joshua Angrist is an economics professor at MIT with research interests in education, labor, immigration and econometric methods for program and policy evaluation.

"It is possible that we are not spending enough on levees, and it is also possible that the people moving in behind those levees are not being charged enough--for flood insurance, for example. If they were required to pay for flood insurance, they might not build there." -- Joshua Angrist
The Ledger (New York Times), Sept. 11, 2005

Rafael Bras

Rafael Bras, Edward A. Abdun-Nur Professor in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, also consults on a project to install floodgates to protect Venice.

"What you have in New Orleans is a delta and if you do not supply the sediment to the delta, then, in essence, you have increased erosion and that erosion will endanger your situation further." -- Rafael Bras
Voice of America, Sept. 18, 2005

"The long-run solution, in my opinion, is not only dealing with the engineering of barriers, but also with the nourishment of the natural system by bringing sediment down. You've got to let the river do its job." -- Rafael Bras
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 8, 2005

"You'll never be able to control nature. The best way is to understand how nature works and make it work in our favor." -- Rafael Bras
New York Times, Sept. 6, 2005

Kerry Emanuel

Kerry Emanuel is a professor of meteorology in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and author of the just-published "Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes." Earlier in the summer, Emanuel reported that hurricanes have grown more powerful and destructive over the last three decades due in part to global warming, and this work was cited often in the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

"My mother has an elderly friend in New Orleans, and I did something I never do. I sent her a message: 'You ought to get out, now!'" -- Kerry Emanuel
New York Times, Jan. 10, 2006

"It is all down to chance. We were seeing the laws of chance operating there. Katrina was near maximum intensity when it hit landfall and it hit a very vulnerable place." -- Kerry Emanuel
The Royal Gazette, Bermuda, Oct. 21, 2005

"It is tempting to ascribe Katrina, Rita and now Wilma to global warming effects, but I am not sure that would pass statistical muster." -- Kerry Emanuel
Reuters, Oct. 20, 2005

"A rational scale would have equal increments of either the wind speed squared or the wind speed cubed." - Kerry Emanuel
MSNBC (from LiveScience), Oct. 20, 2005

"A hurricane is an engine and how fast that engine can run is very sensitive to the temperature of sea water, so when it goes up, the engine can spin faster. We see a very strong correlation between measures of a hurricane's energy and ocean temperatures." - Kerry Emanuel
News Journal, Delaware, Oct. 16, 2005

"I think it's a safe bet that the next hundred years are going to have more Cat 4 and 5 hurricane strikes in the US than the last hundred years. But we're not used to thinking on those time scales, and that's part of the problem." -- Kerry Emanuel
National Public Radio, Sept. 12, 2005

"The temperature of the tropic oceans is warmer than it's been in 150 years." -- Kerry Emanuel
USA Today, Sept. 6, 2005

"If you consider hurricanes over their entire life, and not just when they make landfall, you really do see an upward trend in the power of hurricanes--not in their frequency--but in the magnitude of the wind speed and also in their duration." -- Kerry Emanuel
National Public Radio, Sept. 6, 2005

"'Divine Wind' amazing read after Katrina"
Birmingham News, Sept. 4, 2005

"We've gotten so much better at track prediction. It's really gratifying to see that. But we haven't gotten much better at all in forecasting hurricane intensity." -- Kerry Emanuel
National Public Radio, Sept. 2, 2005

"What has everybody in my profession so concerned--and we've been concerned for decades--is the confluence of a huge upsurge in the coastal population with a natural upswing in the number of storms in the Atlantic." -- Kerry Emanuel
Living on Earth, Sept. 2, 2005

"Hurricanes have killed more people worldwide in the last 50 years than any other natural cataclysm." -- Kerry Emanuel, in the preface to his new book on hurricanes.
Houston Chronicle, Sept. 2, 2005

"We're in for a rough ride over the next 10 years." -- Kerry Emanuel, emphasizing that the current increase in hurricanes in the Atlantic is part of a natural cycle.
US News & World Report, Aug. 31, 2005

Thomas A. Kochan

Thomas A. Kochan is a professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-director of the MIT Workplace Center.

"The key principle should be to give all adults able and willing to work access to training and a guaranteed job in the clean-up and rebuilding process. By doing so we will give them a stake in their future and the skills and opportunities they need to rebuild their lives for the long run." -- Thomas A. Kochan
Center for American Progress, Sept. 15, 2005

Robert Langer

Institute Professor Robert Langer conducts research at the interface of biotechnology and materials science.

"The biggest problem we've had is getting funding. The government will spend $50 billion on recovery, and we could have helped them for a great deal less." -- Robert Langer
The Telegraph (Knight-Ridder), Sept. 25, 2005

Henry Pollakowski

Henry Pollakowski is the director of the Housing Affordability Initiative at MIT's Center for Real Estate.

"You just can't help but thinking and worrying about people getting excessively afraid and selling at excessively low prices." -- Henry Pollakowski, referring to New Orleans property owners
Boston Globe, Sept. 9, 2005

Yossi Sheffi

Yossi Sheffi is the director of the MIT Center for Transporation and Logistics and author of the forthcoming book "The Resilient Enterprise: Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage."

''It takes time to do all this, and economic activity shifts. Companies may decide to build those facilities in the Port of Houston. Some of this traffic may never come back." -- Yossi Sheffi
The Boston Globe, Sept. 18., 2005

"Instead of taking decisive actions, city, state and federal officials argued with one another; communications broke down, and too many civil servants, from New Orleans police officers to Louisiana state officials to FEMA directors, did not have the urgency or the passion required." -- Yossi Sheffi
The Boston Globe, Sept. 18, 2005

"The issues there entirely have nothing to do with technology. They entirely have to do with reporting lines, organization lines, agreeing to work together. The technology is there." -- Yossif Sheffi, on communication among leaders during catastrophic events.
Here and Now, WBUR, Sept. 9, 2005

Lawrence Vale

Lawrence Vale is a professor and the department head of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He co-edited "The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover From Disaster."

"For at least the last 200 years or so, however, large cities have almost always been rebuilt. Regardless of whether they have been flooded, burned, bombed, starved, shaken, or poisoned, we have long bypassed the age of 'lost cities.' " -- Lawrence Vale
The Boston Globe, Sept. 25, 2005

"New Orleans will be rebuilt, not just because of its history and culture, but because of where it is. America's greatest river system needs to feed through a great port, and a port simply cannot exist without a city to support it." -- Lawrence Vale
The Boston Globe, Sept. 25, 2005

"The nation and the world have seen who really lives in a proud but troubled American city just now, and the question is, how are we going to respond to that?" -- Lawrence Vale
Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Sept. 13, 2005

"There's a deeply rooted necessity to turn disaster into opportunity." -- Lawrence Vale
Newsweek, Sept. 12, 2005

"The question is, what do we mean by recovery? Is it getting the hotel occupancy numbers back up in the French Quarter? Or is it fixing low-income schools or working on the worst housing problems?" -- Lawrence Vale
Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2005

"In many ways, it's a lot easier to cope with the engineering challenges of rebuilding a city than it is with the social ones." -- Lawrence Vale
Forbes.com, Sept. 8, 2005

"We have ignored the ecosystem of the Mississippi Delta at our peril for more than 100 years." -- Lawrence Vale
Boston Globe, Sept. 4, 2005

"The cultural provenance of New Orleans stands out in a way that isn't true of other parts of the South." -- Lawrence Vale
San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 4, 2005

"I think there will be a disproportionate amount of attention to restoring the tourism image of New Orleans, but the problem is that a lot of the people who serve the tourist industry don't live in the French Quarter." -- Lawrence Vale.
St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 3, 2005

"All the experience of the last 200 years has been that no matter how devastated a city is, no matter how vulnerable a location, the almost ubiquitous experience has been to rebuild on that same site." -- Lawrence Vale
Ledger-Enquirer (Knight-Ridder), Sept. 1, 2005

"What inevitably happens is that the post-disaster environment is a window onto the inequalities of the power structures of the place before the disaster hit." -- Lawrence Vale
Boston Globe, Sept. 1, 2005


Topics: Civil and environmental engineering, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Urban studies and planning

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