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It Could Happen To You 

Ad campaign stresses that levee failures are not unique to New Orleans.

Nightmares can come true and they can happen to you. Levees.org wants the country to know that failed levees and destructive flooding aren't unique to New Orleans -- they can occur anywhere there are rivers and levees.

The nonprofit group has unveiled television public service announcements (PSAs), narrated by actor/comedian and part-time New Orleans resident, Harry Shearer, that point out that there are levees in every state and that recently "The Army Corps of Engineers admitted that over 120 of these levees may be vulnerable." The PSAs are part of Levees.org's larger strategy to keep America informed about levee problems nationwide and in New Orleans.

Sandy Rosenthal, founder and president of Levees.org, says the goal of the 15- and 30-second PSAs is to make people think about flood protection and to visit the group's Web site. As straightforward as that sounds, Rosenthal admits it's an uphill battle, considering the continuing national misunderstanding of the city's flooding after Katrina.

"Too many people outside of the city and state believe we, the victims, are to blame because we chose to live here," Rosenthal says. "They don't understand what happened here was a case of engineering failures and poor decision-making."

Rosenthal, who has a background in advertising and marketing, feels that the public has to be bombarded with the "it's not just New Orleans' problem" message before it begins to resonate with them. Once it does, visitors to Levees.org can learn about the group's mission, which is to educate Americans about the facts surrounding the New Orleans flood, find out about flood protection across the country and sign a petition asking Congress to authorize a bipartisan commission to investigate the levee failures in New Orleans.

The group hopes that the 8-29 Commission, named after the date the levees failed, will fully investigate the organizational and institutional aspects of the Corps of Engineers and why and how water projects receive federal funding as well as making recommendations for future flood-protection efforts. So far, 6,701 people have signed the petition, and there are more than 11,000 Levee.org members.

These kinds of numbers impress Harry Shearer, who keeps the New Orleans story alive in his blog (available through the Huffington Post Internet news and opinion Web site) and is a board member of Friends of New Orleans, another advocacy group. Shearer first heard about Levees.org when he saw the group's "Hold the Corps Accountable" signs pop up throughout the metro area. Later, at a Friends of New Orleans function at Loyola University, Rosenthal approached Shearer with her plan for a PSA. Shearer was immediately receptive to the idea, especially considering that Rosenthal's group was nonpolitical and organized at a grassroots level.

"You can't trust the politicians to get you out of a jam," Shearer says. "You can trust your friends and neighbors. I've been amazed at the seriousness and focus quality of some of the meetings I've gone to."

With Shearer on board, Francis James, a local filmmaker and owner of Perception Films, went to work writing and producing the television spots. Tim Watson, owner of Ariel Montage Inc., edited the work. "We wrote and designed it in such a way that it's not so much about New Orleans as it is about the levees," James says.

The 30-second spot, which you can view at www.levees.org, begins with Shearer explaining how common levees are in the United States and how many people rely on their protection. It ends with him asking, "Don't we all deserve levees that work?"

The spots have already been approved for airing by local television stations WLAE and Cox Cable 10. Copies also have been sent to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and San Jose, Calif., where Levees.org has satellite offices. The group also will distribute the spots to major media outlets. They also will be available on www.youtube.com. Radio spots also will feature Shearer's voice. Councilman Arnie Fielkow will appear in another PSA later this spring. He says he and other members of city government will use their private contacts to promote the PSAs since the city lacks money to promote the spots.

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