"The scenario of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was well anticipated, predicted and drilled around," said Clare Rubin, an emergency management consultant who also teaches at the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at George Washington University.
Computer models developed at Louisiana State University and other institutions made detailed projections of what would happen if water flowed over the levees protecting the city or if they failed.
In July 2004, more than 40 federal, state, local and volunteer organizations practiced this very scenario in a five-day simulation code-named "Hurricane Pam," where they had to deal with an imaginary storm that destroyed over half a million buildings in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a million residents.
At the end of the exercise, Ron Castleman, regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared: "We made great progress this week in our preparedness efforts.
"Disaster response teams developed action plans in critical areas such as search and rescue, medical care, sheltering, temporary housing, school restoration and debris management. These plans are essential for quick response to a hurricane but will also help in other emergencies," he said.
In light of that, said disaster expert Bill Waugh of Georgia State University, "it's inexplicable howthey were." He said a slow decline over several years in funding for emergency management was partly to blame.
In comments on Thursday, President Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
But Louisiana State University engineer Joseph Suhayda and others have warned for years that defenses could fail. In 2002, thepublished a five-part series on "The Big One," examining what might happen if they did.
It predicted that 200,000 people or more would be unwilling or unable to heed evacuation orders and that thousands would die. It also predicted that people would be housed in the Superdome, that aid workers would find it difficult to gain access to the city as roads became impassable, as well as many other of the consequences that actually unfolded after Katrina hit this week.
Craig Marks, who runs Blue Horizons Consulting, an emergency management training company in North Carolina, said the authorities had mishandled the evacuation, neglecting to help those without transportation to leave the city.
"They could have packed people on trains or buses and gotten them out before the hurricane struck. They had enough time and access to