NEW ORLEANS-- Presenting a united front, leaders from cities, parishes, state and federal agencies gathered by the Mississippi River to ring the warning bell that comes inevitably on June 1st.
"I ask the people to be ready, be prepared and stay safe," said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.
With the 2012 hurricane season now underway, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the Greater New Orleans Hurricane Risk Reduction System is nearly complete: all but 500 feet are done, out of the total 133 miles in the $14.6 billion dollar project.
"We call it a risk reduction system, because that's what this system does. It reduces your risk," said Col. Ed Fleming of the Army Corps.
The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal surge barrier is one of the linchpins of the system, designed to protect the two areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina: New Orleans and Saint Bernard Parish.
"Where we used to be fighting storm surge along the Intercoastal Waterway and in the Industrial Canal, now we're fighting that storm surge all the way out here, almost in Lake Borgne," Col. Fleming said.
Yet concerns remain for areas outside the protection zone, like in Eastern St. Bernard.
"Realistically, the levees have to stop somewhere. If you choose to reside in an area outside the levee protection, then you just take extra precautions," said St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta. "I have to be concerned with that area almost immediately because we'll take high water almost immediately."
Other area leaders believe while the current risk reduction system is good, there is room for improvement.
"Category 5 [protection] is really, at the end of the day, what we need," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "We will continue to fight with the Corps of Engineers and with the federal government to give us the most robust protection that we think we deserve and we think the country needs."
"The bottom line is we're much better protected today, than we've ever been in our history, but we need to continue to invest in hurricane risk reduction and flood mitigation programs," said Jefferson Parish President John Young.
The main thing stressed at the start of the season by all: have a plan ready, for when the call for an evacuation comes.