For the last few days, the world has been watching as Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall, first as a Category 4 hurricane late Friday in the Texas Gulf Coast. As the storm has moved out, some parts of the region may see more than 50 inches of rain, according to forecasters. With heavy rain still expected, rivers rising, and major dams outside of Houston overflowing as Storm Harvey pushes reservoirs past capacity, what can flood control officials and engineers do? Just ask Thomas Zimmie, a dam safety expert and professor of civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who has observed firsthand the destructive power and the aftermath of raging floodwaters during his more than four decades in the field.

“The devastation from Harvey is of historic proportions,” said Zimmie. “Understandably, emphasis is now on rescue and relief operations. A positive observation is that flood response has greatly improved since Katrina. We do learn from disasters, and flood officials, first responders, and engineers have learned many valuable lessons. Any loss of life is terrible, but the numbers will be much less than from Katrina.”

This week also marks the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, Zimmie has been heavily involved with studies on the New Orleans levee failures caused by Hurricane Katrina. He was part of an NSF-sponsored investigative team that went to New Orleans shortly after Katrina. Zimmie also testified before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works committee that was holding hearings on Katrina levee failures. Since then, work on the levees has continued, in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers, using the Rensselaer geotechnical centrifuge, and this work also received a lot of interest from the media and various committees studying Katrina events.

Zimmie’s research exemplifies the vision of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer, the foundation of which is the recognition that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration — working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions — to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With over 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to


Jessica Otitigbe | News and Editorial Services | Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute                       Office: (518) 276-6050 | Mobile: (518) 466-3907   | Email: [email protected]

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