Asee peer logo

Engineering Ethics And Contemporary Issues: Katrina In The Classroom And Beyond

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics and Contemporary Issues

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.561.1 - 11.561.8



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Michael Davis Illinois Institute of Technology

author page

Heinz Luegenbiehl Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Michael Davis February 24, 2006

Getting an Ethics Charge out of Current Events: Some Doubts about Katrina1

On August 29, 2005, “Katrina” was still only the name of an unusually large cyclonic storm (a “category-4 hurricane”). A few days later, it had become shorthand for a complex economic, political, and social disaster. A long stretch of the Gulf coast had become more or less uninhabitable. The convenient measure of time necessary to undo the damage would, it seemed, be years rather than weeks or months. New Orleans, one of the oldest cities in North America, a major port, had all but ceased to exist, many of its million residents seeking refuge far from home. State governors and federal administrators were blaming each other both for the slow response to the disaster—and for the severity of the disaster itself. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was soon to resign in disgrace. There is no doubt that Americans in general, and our students in particular, did find—and continue to find—Katrina “interesting”, even “relevant”. And, unlike much that they find interesting or relevant, Katrina clearly has connections with engineering. As one professor of civil engineering said: "Nothing this big has ever happened before in civil engineering." 2 At perhaps $300 billion in destruction, Katrina is certainly the biggest engineering disaster in the history of the United States. Yet, I doubt that Katrina is a good case for teaching engineering ethics—for now at least. There are at least three distinct reasons for doubt. First, there is the question of what happened. For a number of crucial decisions, we still do not know what their consequences were or what was thought to justify them. Second, there is the question of what part engineers had in what happened, which decisions were theirs and which belonged to elected or appointed officials who were not engineers. Third, there is the question of what part engineering ethics had, or should have had, in the decisions engineers did make (whatever those were). So far we lack any dramatic moment such as


Davis, M., & Luegenbiehl, H. (2006, June), Engineering Ethics And Contemporary Issues: Katrina In The Classroom And Beyond Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--299

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015