Approximately 14,000 dams in the United States are classified as high-hazard potential, meaning that their failure could result in loss of life. Dams can fail for a number of reasons, including overtopping caused by floods, acts of sabotage, or structural failure of materials used in dam construction. The worst dam failure in the United States occurred in 1889 in Johnstown, PA. Over 2,200 died, with many more left homeless. Dams present risks but they also provide many benefits, including irrigation, flood control, and recreation. Dams are a key resource of our national infrastructure that is vulnerable to terrorist attack.
States are primarily responsible for protecting their populations from dam failure. Of the approximately 84,000 dams in the United States, State governments regulate about 90 percent. About 27,000 dams throughout our Nation could incur damage or fail, resulting in significant property damage, lifeline disruption (utilities), business disruption, displacement of families from their homes, and environmental damage.
The most important step you can take to protect yourself from dam failure is to know your risk. Contact Occupational Safety & Health Administration to learn if an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is in place for your state. An EAP is a formal document that identifies potential emergency conditions at a dam and specifies preplanned actions to be followed by the dam owner to reduce property damage and loss of life. This plan may save lives and prevent property damage through timely evacuations of those who live, work, or enjoy recreation near a high-hazard potential dam.
Sign up for dam safety email updates.
A flyer on dam failure and safety written for the general public.
A booklet designed to help answer questions about dams.
This brochure provides an overview of FEMA’s role as lead agency and the responsibilities of the Federal agencies that own, regulate, operate, and maintain dams.
Training Aids for Dam Safety (TADS): A Self-Instructional Study Course in Dam Safety Practices (FEMA 609DVD)
Order a DVD from the FEMA Distribution Center referencing publication number: FEMA 609DVD.
Training Aids for Dam Safety (TADS) is a self-contained, self-paced training course consisting of 21 modules (workbooks and videos) for engineers, technicians, dam owners and operators, water resource managers, dam safety program managers, public officials, and the public.
The modules were developed by technical experts from participating federal and state agencies and are organized into 3 components: Dam Safety Inspection; Dam Safety Awareness, Organization, and Implementation; and Data Review, Investigation, Analysis and Remedial Actions for Dam Safety. Now on DVD, training costs are kept to a minimum by eliminating travel, facility, and instructor costs. The TADS modules can also be used for group instruction.
FEMA also provides a number of other technical resources and publications on dam safety.