Ivor van Heerden
Doctor Ivor van Heerden, Ph.D.', holds a doctorate degree in Marine Sciences and was the deputy director of the Louisiana State University (LSU) Hurricane Center, before being dismissed by LSU following Hurricane Katrina. He is also the director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes.
Van Heerden was born on September 21, 1950 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up in Natal. He has one daughter, Vanessa van Heerden, and one step daughter, Julia James. He created a hurricane modeling program at LSU. For the last decade he has been one of the most persistent voices warning of the inevitable effects of a major hurricane on the Louisiana coast. He was one of several hundred participants at the Hurricane Pam exercise in July 2004. He claims that his warnings during the Hurricane Pam exercise were ignored, which may have contributed to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He has also taken the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to task for their misdesigns which caused the Levee failures in Greater New Orleans, 2005. For a time LSU told him not to talk to the media, amid concerns that his book The Storm was endangering federal grant money flowing to the university.(The Storm, published in 2006, offered his analysis of Katrina and the levee disasters.)
On 9 April 2009 LSU announced it would not renew van Heerden's contract, effective the end of the spring semester 2010. Van Heerden said he was not offered any reason. Van Heerden spoke to Harry Shearer on his Le Show radio program on 12 April 2009 and said, "I learned about not being deputy director through the news media. They basically didn't have the guts to tell me that to my face.... They couldn't tell me why and wouldn't tell me why."
In an editorial letter to the Times-Picayune, Charles E. Settoon criticized Dr. van Heerden for allegedly offering "engineering services" and that he had represented himself "as an engineer publicly without having a professional engineer's license" and consequently, that he was a legal liability for his employer, LSU.
Van Heerden was strongly defended in the Louisiana press. An especially tart assailment of LSU's administration appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, from James A. Cobb Jr., attorney and adjunct professor in LSU-rival Tulane University's School of Law, whose letter to the editor ended thus:
- Academic freedom and intellectual integrity are, at LSU, like two distant cousins who haven't spoken to each other in many, many years.
- Flagship university? Please.
In an interview cited in the New York Times, van Heerden voiced suspicion that his "slow-motion" firing was timed to the opening—on Monday, April 20—of a multibillion-dollar civil suit in federal court against the USACE over the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal (MR-GO). The suit alleges the "short-cut" canal
- caused environmental degradation of the wetlands and greatly increased the effect of [Katrina], causing the flooding in such areas as St. Bernard Parish and the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. Dr. van Heerden is expected to testify in [the] case, and he said "I think that’s the timing — to try to discredit me."
An article in the Times Picayune online edition, April 2013, noted that LSU spent nearly $1 million in fees and other costs to complete the firing of van Heerden. In a two and half year court battle, LSU paid Baton Rouge law firm Kantro Spaht Weaver and Blitzer more than $457,000. Later vindicated by other studies, the corp commanding Lt. Gen Carl Strock noted in 2006, "This has been sobering for us, because it's the first time the corps has had to stand up and say we had a catastrophic failure with one of our projects." The news article also reported that Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal who investigated the reported costs incurred by LSU, noted that van Heerden “...tried to get the truth out about the cause of the flooding, and the higher-ups at LSU seemed to be suppressing the truth.”
- "What bothers me the most is all the people who've died unnecessarily."
- "Those FEMA officials wouldn't listen to me. Those Corps of Engineers people giggled in the back of the room when we tried to present information."
- When it was suggested that tents be prepared. "Their response to me was: 'Americans don't live in tents,' and that was about it."
- "As a nation, let's take up the 'Rebuild!' battle cry. Now is the time to put politics, egos, turf wars and profit agendas aside. We owe it to the thirteen hundred Americans who died in the Katrina tragedy. We owe it to their survivors and to all future generations. It's now or never."
- Schwartz, John (May 30, 2006), "Ivor van Heerden's 'Storm' Draws Fire at L.S.U.", The New York Times, retrieved April 13, 2009
- Schleifstein, Mark (April 9, 2009), "Ivor van Heerden, who pointed fingers in Hurricane Katrina levee failures, fired by LSU", Times-Picayune, retrieved April 13, 2009
- Shearer, Harry (April 12, 2009), Le Show, KCRW, retrieved April 13, 2009 (Interview is from 26:04 to 44:34 in the downloadable podcast or 31:30 to 50:00 in the aired/streaming version).
- Charles E. Settoon, "Geologist out of his league" in Times-Picayune, 2009 April 21, p. B4. Settoon is a professional engineer (P.E.) in Kenner, Louisiana.
- Charlie Smith, "At LSU, being brave and right just isn't enough" in Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 2009 April 14, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B4; Bob Marshall, "TOO TRUE: Ivor van Heerden pointed fingers at the feds after Katrina, and LSU decided its funding was at risk" in Times-Picayune, 2009 April 14, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B5; John Menszer, "Scientist's ouster short-sighted" in Times-Picayune, 2009 April 15, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B4; Ivan Gill, "Move signals priorities at LSU" in Times-Picayune, 2009 April 15, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B4. Keith Wehmeier, "Send LSU message of outrage" in Times-Picayune, 2009 April 21, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B4.
- James A. Cobb Jr., Powerful interests wanted scientist out of LSU, Times-Picayune, 2009 April 18, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B4.
- "Louisiana State Fires Hurricane Expert Who Warned of Katrina Flooding" The Lede blog by John Schwartz, New York Times, April 17, 2009. Retrieved 4/19/09.
- "LSU spent nearly $1 million on legal fight over firing of coastal researcher Ivor van Heerden" Times Picayune, April 03, 2013. Retrieved 4/03/13.
- Myers, Lisa (September 2, 2005), "Was FEMA ready for a disaster like Katrina?", NBC Nightly News, retrieved April 13, 2009