U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honors Rensselaer Researchers for Work on New Orleans Levee Modeling

November 28, 2007

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honors Rensselaer Researchers for Work on New Orleans Levee Modeling

Troy, N.Y. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bestowed high honors upon a team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute faculty and staff for their critical contributions to the rebuilding of New Orleans levees ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Video image

A small-scale centrifuge model of the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans indicates that this levee may have slid on a layer of weak clay just beneath the peat that underlies the earthen structure. See video (wmv).

The group, led by professors Tarek Abdoun, Thomas Zimmie, and Ricardo Dobry, of Rensselaer’s Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (CEES) in the School of Engineering, received an assortment of awards, including the coveted Commander’s Award for Public Service, and certificates from the Corps and its Hurricane Katrina Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET). The awards were presented in a Nov. 28 ceremony in Rensselaer’s Jonsson Engineering Center.

“The independent centrifuge modeling experiments conducted by the experts at Rensselaer greatly assisted with the repairs and improvements of the New Orleans hurricane protection system following Hurricane Katrina,” said Mike Sharp, co-leader of the IPET Geotechnical Structure Performance Analysis Team, who presented the awards at the ceremony. “The Rensselaer centrifuge experiments, coupled with those conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, discovered and validated floodwall failure mechanisms. These ‘lessons learned’ were factored into the system improvements to provide much better protection for the citizens of New Orleans.” 

“These prestigious awards from the Army Corps of Engineers are well deserved and well received,” said Alan Cramb, dean of Rensselaer’s School of Engineering. “The persistent and careful research conducted by Professors Abdoun, Zimmie, Dobry, and their team demonstrates the very best Rensselaer has to offer. They are problem solvers, creative thinkers, and their efforts in this project will inform engineers for generations to come.”

To provide essential data for the rebuilding of the devastated levees in New Orleans, Abdoun, Zimmie, Dobry and their group studied small-scale models of sections of the flood-protection system. The researchers built models of typical levee sections from several locations in New Orleans, including the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal, and tested these models using Rensselaer’s 150 g-ton centrifuge. The group replicated conditions during Hurricane Katrina and subjected the models to flood loads, supplying important information to help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepare the city for the next hurricane season and beyond.

“It’s a great honor to be awarded the prestigious Commander’s Medal for my effort on studying New Orleans levees,” said Abdoun, an associate professor in Rensselaer’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “More important is the fact that our findings led to significant improvements of the New Orleans hurricane protection system following Hurricane Katrina.” 

Preliminary findings of the study show that in the 17th Street model, the wall in the middle of the earthen structure started to move before the water reached the top. The weak clay directly underneath the peat layer sheared first, causing the whole levee to slide. Abdoun presented the findings to peer review groups from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering. Zimmie, a professor in the same department, also spent a week in New Orleans as part of a National Science Foundation investigation team and presented his findings to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. 

“Hopefully our work has led to a clearer understanding of what happened in Katrina, and results in improved protection against future disasters in New Orleans and around the globe,” Zimmie said. “The emphasis over the past two years has been New Orleans, but there are thousands of miles of levees throughout the United States that can benefit from our research.”

The complete list of award recipients is as follows:

Tarek Abdoun, an associate professor in Rensselaer’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will receive the Commander’s Award for Public Service with an accompanying medal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This medal is one of the highest awards given by the Army to civilians and is reserved for individuals who provided outstanding services to the Army. The award is in appreciation for Abdoun’s support in the New Orleans recovery through efforts with IPET. Abdoun will also receive a Certificate of Recognition from IPET, for his leadership and dedication provided to the organization’s post-Katrina projects.

Tom Zimmie, a professor in Rensselaer’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will receive a Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The award is in appreciation for his support in the New Orleans recovery through efforts with IPET. From IPET, Zimmie will also receive a Certificate of Recognition, recognizing his leadership and dedication applied to the IPET effort.

Ricardo Dobry, Institute Professor in Rensselaer’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will receive a Certificate of Recognition for leadership and dedication provided to the IPET effort.

Inthuorn Sasanakul, operations manager of Rensselaer’s Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, will receive the Commander’s Award for Public Service with an accompanying medal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This medal is one of the highest awards given by the Army to civilians and is reserved for individuals who provided outstanding services to the Army. The award is in appreciation for Sasanakul’s support in the New Orleans recovery through efforts with IPET. Sasanakul will also receive a Certificate of Recognition from IPET, recognizing the leadership and dedication in the organization’s post-Katrina projects.

Javier Ubilla, a research engineer at Rensselaer’s Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, will receive the Commander’s Award for Public Service with an accompanying medal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This medal is one of the highest awards given by the Army to civilians and is reserved for individuals who provided outstanding services to the Army. The award is in appreciation for Ubilla’s support in the New Orleans recovery through efforts with IPET. Ubilla will also receive a Certificate of Recognition from IPET, recognizing his leadership and dedication provided to the organization’s post-Katrina projects.

Hassan Radwan, IT Manager of Rensselaer’s Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, and Marcelo Gonzales, a doctoral student in the Rensselaer’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will each receive a Certificate of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in appreciation for their support of the New Orleans recovery through efforts with IPET. From IPET, Radwan and Gonzales also will receive a Certificate of Recognition, recognizing their leadership and dedication applied to the IPET effort.

Rensselaer’s Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (CEES) is part of a national network of universities supported by the National Science Foundation, which includes critical research facilities for analyzing and mitigating the effects of earthquakes and other natural and man-made hazards on the country’s civil infrastructure.



Contact: Michael Mullaney
Phone: (518) 276-6161
E-mail: mullam@rpi.edu