Dam Safety

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This page provides an overview on the topic of Dam Safety, as well as the National Dam Safety Program.  It is intended to serve as a resource for people who live near dams, as well as agencies and local authorities with responsibility for dams and areas impacted by dams.

Raising Dam Safety Awareness

Dam Safety is a Shared Responsibility

Dams are a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure and all Americans enjoy the benefits they provide, including flood protection, water supply, hydropower, irrigation and recreation. However, our dams are aging and many are deteriorating, while downstream and upstream populations are increasing. Everyone has a role to play in creating a future where all dams are safer – including dam owners, engineers, community planners/leaders and federal and state regulators. For 30 years, the federal government has been working to protect Americans from dam failure through the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP). The program, which is led by FEMA, is a partnership of states, federal agencies and other stakeholders to encourage individual and community responsibility for dam safety. NDSP is an investment in preventing dam failures and reducing the impacts on lives and property that may be at risk from a dam failure. NDSP plays an important role in raising dam safety awareness and lessening the impacts if a dam was to fail. Key initiatives include:

  • Assisting states in establishing and maintaining dam safety programs;
  • Providing technical training to state and federal dam safety staff; and
  • Supporting research and the development of guidance to advance the practice of dam safety to improve public safety.

Dam safety is a shared responsibility – you are encouraged to know your risk, know your role, know the benefits of dams and take action

National Dam Safety Awareness Day

National Dam Safety Awareness Day was established several years ago to commemorate the devastation that occurred on May 31, 1889, when the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, PA, failed. This tragic event resulted in the deaths of 2,200 people and left thousands homeless. The Johnstown disaster was the worst dam failure in the history of the United States.  

The Johnstown Flood Museum held a commemoration ceremony, occurring over several days with participation by NDSP and the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). Information about this year’s event can be found at Johnstown Flood Museum. FEMA encourages all states and territories to have an event at either the local level or state-wide to educate the public about dam safety.   

In addition, FEMA has prepared a 2-part video showcasing remarks by Mr. David Miller and Mr. Doug Bellomo with FEMA and other state, local, and ASDSO officials:

National Dam Safety Awareness Day / 125th Anniversary of the Johnstown Flood - Part 1

National Dam Safety Awareness Day / 125th Anniversary of the Johnstown Flood - Part 2

Dam Failure Information

There are more than 80,000 dams in the United States according to the 2007 update to the National Inventory of Dams. Approximately one-third of these pose a “high” or “significant” hazard to life and property if failure occurs.

Intense storms may produce a flood in a few hours or even minutes for upstream locations. Flash floods occur within 6 hours of the beginning of heavy rainfall and dam failure may occur within hours of the first signs of breaching. Other failures and breaches can take days and weeks to occur because of debris jams or the accumulation of melting snow.

For preparedness tips on what to do before, during and after a flood, visit Ready.gov.

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Last Updated: 
04/13/2015 - 13:42
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