National Dam Safety Awareness Day is May 31

In the U.S., National Dam Safety Awareness Day occurs on May 31 of each year, created to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility for dam safety.

On May 31, 1889, South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pa., failed, killing 2,200 people, making it the nation’s worst dam failure. At the time, it represented the largest single loss of civilian life in United States history, and in commemoration of the disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared May 31, 1999 to be National Dam Safety Awareness Day.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and additional organizations use National Dam Safety Awareness Day to promote awareness of dam safety.

The awareness effort also provides information that includes: what steps can be taken to prevent future catastrophic dam failures; give individuals and communities the opportunity to recognize the importance of risk awareness; know and understand the risks and benefits associated with dams; and take action to help reduce risk from living near a dam.

The Corps says living with dams is a shared responsibility and requires constant assessment, communication, engagement and management. Some of the agency’s recommended safety steps include the following:

  • Know your risk by contacting your local emergency management agency or state dam safety official;
  • Know your role by having an emergency preparedness plan for you and your family, and practice it; and
  • Take action by knowing your evacuation route, talk to neighbors [about dam safety] and purchase flood insurance.

The Corps operates and maintains more than 700 dams, of which the Corps said contributes US$13.4 billion in flood damages prevented in 2013, or $8 of damages avoided for each $1 invested.

There are more than 87,000 dams in the U.S., of which only 4% are owned by the federal government. The Corps operates and maintains:

  • More than 700 dams;
  • Six of the 10 largest reservoirs in the U.S.;
  • Seven of the 10 largest embankment dams in the U.S.; and
  • 50% of all federally-owned dams.

The Corps says dam safety is the dam owner’s responsibility, however the consequences are shared by many, which leads to the need for increased awareness about dam safety.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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