Cite as:

Y. Bar-Yam, P. Seguin, Complex systems engineering principles — active response and soft failure: A visit to the US Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, NECSI Report 2010-09-01 (2010).


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) invited Professor Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, to give an executive program to senior management to provide training in complex systems science concepts and their application to areas of interest to the USACE. In preparation for this program, Professor Bar-Yam was provided a tour of the USACE engineering and construction efforts in New Orleans. These efforts were developed following Hurricane Katrina under the supervision of Task Force Hope of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Civil Works programs of the USACE. Tours of the new pump station at the 17th St. Canal and the surge protection barrier by boat were included, as well as a visit to the Gentilly neighborhood. Gentilly was largely destroyed by flooding during Katrina, similarly to the Ninth Ward, which has received more media attention. The tour provided key information about the opportunities and challenges facing the civil works program of the USACE, including the natural, social and technological components of the systems being confronted, and the organizational structures within USACE that are used to accomplish their tasks. Project Hope is currently at the peak of construction in view of a completion deadline of June 2011. Along with other examples within USACE, the relevant “lessons learned” from the project will inform the executive program.

Following the tour, NECSI met with Col. Gunter and risk reduction specialist Reuben Mabry to discuss some insights from complex systems science that may inform future efforts to achieve risk reduction beyond the current program plans. This report describes some of the principles at work in Project Hope and the complex systems insights discussed with Col. Gunter and Mr. Mabry.