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What A Mess

I'm looking at reporting from what looks like the Sheraton in Clear Lake, and there are reports of furniture with NASA logos floating in the bay. Gotta think that some of the JSC facilities were flooded.

If space were important, we wouldn't have mission control in an area susceptible to floods and hurricanes. The Cape has some geographical reasons for its location, but the only reason that JSC is in Houston is because Johnson wanted it there, and the land was free.

[Update in the afternoon]

Here's more on NASA's fragile infrastructure. The agency's ground facilities are just as non-robust as its space transportation system.

Here is how it seems to work: a hurricane threatens JSC - so NASA shuts off email and other services to a large chunk of the agency. Why? Because NASA deliberately set the system up such that other NASA centers - some of which are thousands of miles away and poised to offer assistance and keep the rest of the agency operating - have their email and other services routed out of JSC - and only JSC (or so it would seem). A few critical users have some service, but everyone else is out of luck for at least 48 hours. Would any self-respecting, profitable, commercial communications company do something as silly as this? No. They'd never stay in business. Only NASA would come up with such a flawed and stupid plan.

That's too harsh. I can imagine the FAA, or DHS doing exactly the same thing.

It's just more of that wise, foresightful government thing.

[Update about 1:30 PM EDT]

Jeff Masters says that Galveston lucked out:

Although Ike caused heavy damage by flooding Galveston with a 12-foot storm surge, the city escaped destruction thanks to its 15.6-foot sea wall (the wall was built 17 feet high, but has since subsided about 2 feet). The surge was able to flow into Galveston Bay and flood the city from behind, but the wall prevented a head-on battering by the surge from the ocean side. Galveston was fortunate that Ike hit the city head-on, rather than just to the south. Ike's highest storm surge occurred about 50 miles to the northeast of Galveston, over a lightly-populated stretch of coast. Galveston was also lucky that Ike did not have another 12-24 hours over water. In the 12 hours prior to landfall, Ike's central pressure dropped 6 mb, and the storm began to rapidly organize and form a new eyewall. If Ike had had another 12-24 hours to complete this process, it would have been a Category 4 hurricane with 135-145 mph winds that likely would have destroyed Galveston. The GFDL model was consistently advertising this possibility, and it wasn't far off the mark. It was not clear to me until late last night that Ike would not destroy Galveston and kill thousands of people. Other hurricane scientists I conversed with yesterday were of the same opinion.

And of course, the lesson that the people who stayed behind will take is not that they were lucky and foolhardy, but that the weather forecasters overhyped the storm, and they'll be even less likely to evacuate the next time. And one of these times their luck will run out, as it did for their ancestors a few generations ago, when thousands were killed by a hurricane in Galveston.

[Update mid afternoon]

Sounds like things could have been a lot worse at NASA, too.

NASA had feared that a storm surge from Galveston Bay would flood some buildings on the 1,600-acre Space Center. Its southeast boundary is near Clear Lake, which is connected to Galveston Bay. However, the water did not rise that high.

Apparently the Guppy hangar at Ellington was destroyed, but it was never much of a hangar--more like a big tent.


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Jay Manifold wrote:

As a general recommendation, not only should NASA facilities be shifted away from hurricane-prone regions, but most (= nearly all) Federal offices should be dispersed from DC to many different locations around the country. Almost anywhere between the Blue Ridge and the Sierras would be cheaper and more secure.

Bob wrote:

Your line of thinking is tricky, as it invites thoughts like "If RIce University was important, it wouldn't be located in Houston", and "If people were important, heterogeneous big cities wouldn't be located where floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanos, and other natural disasters could befall them."

I think one of the cyrogenics firms was located in Michigan because it was determined that Michigan had the fewest and the least severe natural disasters of all 50 states. (I guess it helps if getting really cold is not a disaster.) (Just kidding.)

Rand Simberg wrote:

There are many universities. The world would go on without Rice. There is only one mission control center for (among other things) a multi-billion-dollar space station. So if it were important, they'd have a more robust system. But it's not.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Also, if Rice University were so important that we had to protect it against a regional disaster, then the easiest way would be to create satellite campuses. So that if something happens to the Texas one, the staff and students can relocate to one of the other campuses.

Carl Pham wrote:

Hmm, well, you know, it's pretty easy to give advice that people should be more cautious. It seems indefinitely rational. But, it's not, actually. Being safe costs resources -- time, money, political support, whatever -- that could be used elsewhere. Truly rational decision-making balances these costs against the expected loss, which is the loss itself multiplied by the probability of loss.

When the probability of loss is very low, and the value of the loss very high, that multiplication is tricky and often enough counterintuitive that life insurance companies (which specialize in doing the calculation accurately, and then offering people the opportunity to bet they've done it wrong) make huge amounts of money.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

What happens when the probability of very high loss isn't very low? That was the Galveston situation.

anon in tx wrote:

There is no Sheraton in Clear Lake. It was razed several years ago. This hurricane wasn't as bad as Alicia in '83 (FWIW they eye pass over me around 5:30 am). This evening when my pwr was restored the email from jsc center ops said they will not be open before thursday. Contrary to the previous item, MSFC is the email center (NOMAD), not JSC.

Leland wrote:

Concur with anon. I checked my email this morning. It works fine. JSC is closed for sometime, but then again, Webster has requested evacuees not to return. Seabrook and ClearLake Shores are also closed. So, it would be pretty difficult to get into JSC.

Frank Glover wrote:

"I think one of the cyrogenics firms was located in Michigan because it was determined that Michigan had the fewest and the least severe natural disasters of all 50 states."

Actually, the cryonics provider Alcor did move from Riverside, CA to Scottsdale, AZ in 1993, partly to avoid earthquake risks (as well as a friendlier legal climate):

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on September 13, 2008 8:03 AM.

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