In January 2006, the Corps placed an order for 34 60-inch temporary pumps -- 12 for 17th Street Canal, 12 for London Avenue Canal, and 10 for Orleans Avenue Canal. The new pumps began arriving in New Orleans in late spring, before the 2006 hurricane season.There you go.
As soon as the pumps arrived, they were immediately installed by construction crews working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, the contract was modified in early summer to add six more pumps to the 17th Street Canal, bringing the total for all three canals to 40 pumps, with 18 of those for 17th Street.
"We installed the new temporary pumps as fast as we received them," said Mr. Jim St. Germain, a senior project manager in the Hurricane Protection Office. "We had crews working at the outfall canals around the clock; they were even doing some of the work at night, under lights. We were determined to make our pre-hurricane season goal, and we did."
That is not the usual means for manufacturing and installing massive equipment like these pumps. Under normal circumstances, whether for government or private industry, performance tests would be done on the equipment at the factory by the manufacturer before delivery, without observation by the government. Any operational problems would be repaired or adjusted there, and the equipment would be tested and re-tested until it meets performance expectations. When the performance is satisfactory, then the equipment would be installed in its intended location.
That's what happens under normal circumstances.
But following Katrina, the Corps did not have the luxury of working under normal circumstances. To quickly reduce the public risk, Corps personnel were placed at the factory to document manufacturer's tests, resulting in a series of reports regarding the pumps' capabilities.
"When we installed the new pumps, we knew they weren't operating to full effectiveness," said Col. Jeffrey Bedey, Hurricane Protection Office commander. "We had numerous engineering reports which told us that. But if we had done this in the traditional manner, it would have taken four to five years to get the pumps in place. Instead, we put the pumps in at the sites in a matter of months. To reduce the risk to the community for the next hurricane season, we wanted the pumps on the ground. We decided we would work out the final testing on the pumps in place."
It was reported that the new pumps vibrated when first tested at the outfall canals.
"Some of them did, but we did not see failure when the pumps vibrated," Col. Bedey said. "They would not have operated perfectly, but they would have provided pumping if we had needed it in 2006."
Col. Bedey compared the pump situation to an automobile. "When you know your car engine has a problem, you would prefer to repair it rather than drive it. But if you're in an emergency situation, you'll go ahead and drive it and get where you need to be, and then fix it when you can. That's basically what we did with the pumps."