Storm surge barriers work—up to a point; that point being the surge height for which they are designed. But even when overtopped, experts are banking on the barriers mitigating the kind of run-away disaster that befell New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One thing is for sure, though. The absence of storm surge barriers can amount to no protections worthy of the name, as New York City learned Oct. 29 as Hurricane Sandy rolled ashore.
Exposed towns, cities and even nations, such as The Netherlands, have slowly and quietly been building up storm surge defenses to protect themselves for decades, averting millions of dollars in damages as a result. For example, Superstorm Sandy had swelled water levels to 9.5 feet as it approached Providence, R.I., but thanks to the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier, standing 26.7 feet high, that city avoided potentially millions in dollars in damages.