Fortify Your Dam Safety Program by Incorporating Resilience

May 27, 2021
Bill Foos, MBA, CPP, PSP &

When it comes to critical infrastructure management, there has been an increased focus on resilience. While there are numerous definitions for resilience, most of them refer to the ability to adapt to changing conditions and prepare for broad hazards and threats, such as natural disasters and man-made threats, including cyber incidents and acts of terrorism. Here I identify how you can expand various components of traditional dam safety practices by incorporating additional elements and complementary disciplines into an integrated dam resilience framework.

Enhanced resilience as an additional objective for guiding decision-making allows for the consideration of courses of action to increase preparedness for an incident, implement measures that mitigate its effects, improve emergency response and business continuity operations, and expedite recovery. This can be achieved by appropriately linking risk management and crisis management activities as part of an integrated approach.

Risk Management

In most cases, there are only three ways to manage risk: accept it, transfer it, or mitigate it. Within the context of the risk management framework, one must start with the premise that all risks are known. However, in the environment we live in today, not all risks are known, and in some cases, they are unknown until a hazard occurs or an event takes place. These concealed or unrevealed risks may appear in unexpected ways. Contingency plans help empower decision-makers to respond and recover from these unexpected incidents.

Asset Risk Management

Using an asset risk management approach allows organizations to prioritize their investments and identify where capital resources should be allocated. In the context of risk management, asset risk management is only one part of the equation for an organization. Organizations must manage personnel risks, information risks, and operational and maintenance risks. Various dam safety programs utilize Risk-Informed Decision Making (RIDM) to inform the asset risk management process.

Dam Safety Risk Management

The fundamental principles of dam safety are not new. Various governmental agencies establish dam safety rules and regulations to provide the essential actions required by dam owners to maintain safe dams. Risk analysis can form the basis of a dam safety program.

Enhanced resilience objectives supplement risk management efforts with hazard or threat mitigation measures, response/emergency action planning, and actions undertaken to improve continuity of operations. The resilience focus also allows for the appropriate consideration of dependencies related to key external resources required by the facility to maintain operations, susceptibility to disruption of the associated supply chains, and the ability to identify alternative resources or backups. Moreover, the resilience focus provides a holistic consideration of the public safety, security, and emergency management domains. This includes the capability to respond to an accident or an incident without an immediate response from external first responders, as well as the mechanisms to interact with them.

Finally, an integrated approach to enhanced resilience provides a useful framework to implement activities and programs designed to be effective and efficient in returning operating conditions to a level that is acceptable to the facility. This includes restoration agreements with entities other than emergency responders, procedures/assets required to support facility restoration, and specialized materials or equipment needs. The idea of interweaving public safety, dam safety, and security programs can seem daunting, particularly in large organizations. Conversely, smaller agencies lack the resources to undertake the effort. Yet as dams are under pressure to endure more than their intended design, what are the consequences of doing nothing?