Washington, DC -- To focus public attention on the importance of dam safety, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated May 31, 2000 as National Dam Safety Awareness Day. May 31 is the anniversary of the Johnstown, Penn., flood, where in 1889 more than 2,000 people lost their lives as a result of a dam failure.
FEMA Director James Lee Witt and representatives of the dam safety community will take part in a program marking National Dam Safety Awareness Day in Washington, DC, at the Willard Hotel, Wednesday afternoon, May 31, 2000.
More than 9,000 dams nationwide have been designated by their states as "high-hazard," which means that if they fail people will likely lose their lives. There are about 80,000 dams in communities across the United States and high-hazard dams in every state. While all dams are innately hazardous, the term "high-hazard" generally means that failure of the dam would likely result in loss of life.
"The issue of dam safety is an important one," FEMA Director James Lee Witt said. "Most high-hazard dams are privately owned and this requires a commitment to safety from dam owners. The public and private sectors need to work together to fully address the issue of dam safety." FEMA's dam safety program focuses on helping vulnerable communities increase preparedness and awareness of the risks they face. "It is critical that effective evacuation plans are in place in the event they are needed," Witt said, "and that people who live downstream are aware of and understand the risks associated with dams."
Eighty percent (64,000) of America's dams were built before 1980, and about 18,000 were built before 1950. The majority of dams built in the 1950s and 1960s for flood control, water supply, irrigation, hydroelectric power and recreation were built to low-hazard potential standards. Because of the communities that have sprung up and the development that has taken place since the dams were built, thousands of people now live downstream and need to be aware of the risks.
"While the benefits of dams are numerous, they can pose a risk to communities if not designed, operated and maintained properly," Witt said. "Dams must be well designed and maintained, they must be operated in accordance with acceptable standards, and there must be emergency action plans in place to protect those downstream in the event of failure."