Edited Version April 19, 2000
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"The National Dam Safety Program"

Donald Bathurst
Director, Office of National Dam Safety
FEMA Mitigation Directorate

Amy Sebring, EIIP Moderator

The original unedited transcript of the April 19, 2000 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Classroom! For the benefit of any first-timers, when you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window. After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen. Then you will need to bring your chat window back to the top in the same way.

We will start with a presentation, and then follow with a Q&A session for your questions and comments. Right before we begin the Q&A portion we will review the procedure. Please do NOT send direct messages to the speaker or moderator as it makes it difficult for us to follow the discussion. Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/vclass/000419.htm>.


Today's session is part of our intermittently continuing Hazard Series, where we present a hazard-specific topic as a learning opportunity. Our focus today is on dams and the National Dam Safety Program. We are honored to have Mr. Donald Bathurst, the Director of the Office of National Dam Safety, FEMA Mitigation Directorate, with us today to present an overview and answer your questions.

Mr. Bathurst holds a Bachelor of Science in Fire Protection Engineering from the University of Maryland and a Master of Public Administration from The American University, and previously served as the Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator, FEMA USFA.

Welcome Don, and thank you for taking the time to be with us today.


Don Bathurst: Thank you, Amy. I am joined in my office today by Rita Henry and Fay Davis, with the Office of National Dam Safety, here at FEMA.

The purpose of the National Dam Safety Program, codified in 1996 through Section 215 of the Water Resources Development Act (PL 104-303), is to "reduce the risks to life and property from dam failure in the United States through the establishment and maintenance of an effective national dam safety program to bring together the expertise and resources of the Federal and non-Federal communities in achieving national dam safety hazard reduction." Slide 1, please.


The objectives of the act are shown on the following slides. Amy, Slides 2 and 3, please.



The Director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, has elevated the program, providing more emphasis and visibility, where it reports directly to the Associate Director for Mitigation, Mike Armstrong. Central to the program are the concepts of cooperation and partnership. In response to the legislation, the National Dam Safety Program is shifting from oversight of Federal activities, to proactively coordinating and ensuring the cooperation of Federal and State partners in providing cutting-edge engineering and emergency preparedness support. Amy, slide 4, please.


This shows how the coordination of Federal activities, State activities and those of the engineering community is central to the Program. Also, notice that stakeholders cut across all activities. These include Congress, governors, mayors, and everyone affected by a dam. Much is known about dams, but much is yet to be known. There are more than 75,000 dams nationwide. These are classified as high (potential loss of life), significant (potential economic or environmental loss), or low (negligible loss) hazard potential.

This is only based on hazard and does not give a clear picture of the risk of failure.

Hazard is independent of the condition of the dam and only represents the potential consequence of failure relative to loss of life and property damage! In many respects, the hazard associated with a dam can be proportionate to the benefits derived from it. For example, a high hazard potential hydroelectric dam or water supply (a very high one with a large reservoir) can generate a lot of electricity or provide a lot of retained water supply.

Developing and collecting this information will be a priority so that Federal, State and local officials, as well as dam owners and affected property owners will have sufficient information to make rational decisions.

In the case of high and significant hazard potential dams, we have a program for the development and coordination of Emergency Action Plans. These provide a detailed plan of action to alert, mitigate, and if necessary, evacuate areas around a dam in the event of a problem. Currently, only about 30 percent of dams required to have EAP's actually have them. In addition, according to a recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, 35 percent of the 9,200 regulated High Hazard dams have not been inspected since before 1990 (where they should be inspected at least every 5 years).

The State assistance program is intended to help States bring the necessary resources to bear on inspection, classification, and emergency planning for dam safety. The research and training programs are intended to keep State dam safety officials current with state-of-the-art technology and engineering approaches to inspection, rehabilitation, and hazard mitigation actions.

The Dam Safety Program has other very important features. First is the National Dam Safety Review Board. Made up of Federal, State and private technical experts and chaired by the Associate Director for Mitigation, this board provides the FEMA Director advice on all matters and serves to help oversee the development and support of State dam safety programs. Slide 5, please.


In addition, the National Dam Safety Program brings together all Federal Agencies involved in the design, construction, operation or regulation of dams through the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety (ICODS). Slide 6, please.


This committee performs its important functions through a series of subcommittees to coordinate and share information so as to eliminate duplication of efforts and leverage scarce Federal resources while providing consistent guidance and developing new approaches to dam safety. Amy, Slide 7, please.


The National Program has three major foci:

1) coordination of Federal programs so that States and dam owners see similar requirements and treatment,

2) coordination and support of State Programs for consistency in safety provided to citizens, and

3) coordination of development of emergency management functions, especially Emergency Action Plans for High and Significant Hazard Potential dams.

The national Program embraces the following values. Slide 8, please.


And is striving to outreach and expand communications with the following stakeholders. Slide 9, please.


Using a strategic approaches. Slide 10, please.

[SLIDE 10]

The National Dam Safety Program priorities include:

• development and use of risk management techniques to classify and prioritize conditions of dams

• emphasis on accurate reporting of dam incidents to better document failure modes and research and training needs

• integration of the program with other FEMA programs, especially Project Impact

• expanded outreach to share information with a wide array of stakeholder such as emergency management and floodplain managers as well as the general public

• development of an ongoing technical training and public education program that can be delivered through multiple outlets at multiple levels.

Amy, Slide 11, please.

[SLIDE 11]

The program implementation plan was developed in 1997 and is on track through the variety of new program initiatives. FEMA takes its dam safety role seriously, as evidenced by the actions over the past years.

We are emphasizing public awareness this year with a National Dam Safety Day on May 31 (or possibly June 1), the anniversary of the Johnstown Flood, which was the result of a catastrophic dam failure. For more information, please visit our web site at <http://www.fema.gov/mit/ndspweb.htm>.

With the new legislative authorization and the support and commitment of Director Witt, the program will provide the necessary leadership and coordination at the Federal level, to ensure better safety of citizens who live, work, play or receive some other benefit from dams - that is, every citizen.

I will now take any questions anyone may have.

Amy Sebring: Thank you for that overview, Don. We can get into some more detail in response to questions. Audience, please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized. Go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the enter key or clicking on Send. We now invite your questions/comments. Carl, please, when you are ready.

[Audience Questions]


Carl Sexton: Are there any fines or other legal actions for those without emergency plans?

Don Bathurst: That would vary on a State by state basis. Different States have differing authorities. In fact, some States cannot require or follow up on the development of EAP's. However, hydroelectric projects are licensed by the Federal energy regulatory Commission and must maintain and exercise such plans on a regular basis as a condition of licensure.


Daryl Spiewak: What is FEMA, or the Federal government going to do about those owners of high hazard dams who do not yet have EAP's? Will you force the states to enforce the rules/requirements?

Don Bathurst: FEMA does not have the authority to force the States to take action. However, we are working with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and provide information to the Governors on a regular basis. Our hope and aim is that that when presented with the appropriate information, States will take appropriate actions. This will certainly take some time but taking informed action tends to inculcate the desired action, rather than forcing people to do something.


Daryl Spiewak: Also, will FEMA be using Project Impact to help owners develop EAP's?

Don Bathurst: We are working through the FEMA regional offices to help Project Impact communities assess all their risks. Including those associated with dams and to take appropriate engineering or emergency planning action. We have had quite some success already.


David Crews: What role does Dam Safety play from the National level on dam placement/location, construction and inspection policy?

Don Bathurst: We are working with the States, planners, floodplain managers, the flood insurance program and others to get information circulated more widely about the impacts of dams and the safety considerations so that all this information can be taken into account in land use planning and development processes.


Rick Tobin: I've worked with water agencies involved with dam exercises. I have several concerns. First, the "downstreamer" population base changes so often that it is hard to measure if they understand the risks. Second, the warning systems for dam failure are sorely inadequate, and are not being properly coordinated with public education and EAS. Third, the status of many older, smaller rural dams is very disconcerting. Like many other infrastructures, e.g. bridges and roads, they are deteriorating.

Don Bathurst: Rick's concerns are on target. What we have found is that dam safety has been a very technical application within the dam safety community. We are actively working to encourage and involve all stakeholders, so that more people will understand these concerns and do what is necessary to address them.


Jim Sells: When/how do the local/rural dams fit into this picture? How can we find out more?

Don Bathurst: More than 90% of the dams in this country fall under State regulation. Most of these are smaller, rural dams. They are an important consideration, because when built many were "in the middle of nowhere" but now are in the middle of development. So, they were built to a standard that was expectant of not much to be damaged, but now must be upgraded to protect property and lives in case of a failure. Specific information should be available from your State dam safety official. You can get information on who and where they are from the ASDSO web site, <http://www.damsafety.org>.


Amy Sebring: How actively are state Emergency Management agencies involved with this issue?

Don Bathurst: More now than a year ago, but not as much as we hope a year from now.

One of the items we found with the new emphasis on the program, was that there was a disconnect in many of the States between dam safety and emergency management. We are continually working to foster and develop these new partnerships!


Rick Tobin: We often do a trivia test here. Anyone know the second largest loss of lives in California due to a natural disaster? Quake? No. Fire? No. The St. Francis dam failure in the 1920's. But most Californians don't even think about that. Similar problem all over the US. So, how do we meet awareness and not strike fear?

Don Bathurst: Also, don't forget that the Johnstown flood in 1898, was the result of a dam failure! We need to present information in a factual and non-emotional way. Key is to show that through proper planning, development, engineering, operations and maintenance and emergency planning, as necessary, that people can affect their risk exposure in a positive way. This is true of dam safety as well as exposures to other hazards. This is of course the central theme and message of our Project Impact initiative, Building Disaster Resistant Communities.


David Crews: The reason I asked about a National Policy is that we have policy in place for flooding. With dam failure there are Emergency Responses, legal and liability issues that could have consequences on a national level no matter who owns the dam.

Don Bathurst: That is true. Dam failure, jut like floods in general, do not respect political boundaries. However, it is important that States and local jurisdictions take responsibility for their actions. So, we have an approach to communicate risk information in a way to maintain accountability where actions can be taken.


Amy Sebring: Don, what does your risk analysis thus far say about how this hazard will continue or grow in the future due to our aging infrastructure?

Don Bathurst: Intuition tells us that dams if allowed to deteriorate can cause much damage. The larger dams, and those under Federal regulation are maintained and upgraded pretty well. One concern is that we do not have a good handle on the risk exposure. The hazard potential classification system really classifies the potential consequences, it does not describe the condition or probability of failure. We are working with the States and Federal agencies to develop a simple analysis template that could communicate more of this information.


Kathleen Talbott: Our Emergency Management office here in Montgomery County is very active in securing EAP's, but we do not have the manpower to inspect our older dams to ensure that they are safe. Does the Federal Government have any grants monies available so we might hire a contractor to inspect the dams in our County? Any private grant monies available that you know about?

Don Bathurst: The National Dam safety Program does have a grant program but it is for State programs. I would suggest that you contact Brad Iarossi if you have a specific activity or project in mind to see how it might fit with the State plans.

Final Question:

Avagene Moore: Don, does the FEMA Dam Safety Program interact with international counterparts? If so, what is learned there? Do other countries put more emphasis on awareness, maintenance and planning re: dams?

Don Bathurst: We have been focusing on the U.S. situation right now. The private sector engineering community is working with their counterparts in other countries. But we have not been actively working that angle. This is mostly due to limited resources being applied on a priority basis. However, we have been working with the State Department and the International Joint Commission on issues of dam safety along the Canadian border. We, in the US, are in pretty good shape but the International Joint Commission has some concerns with our neighbors to the North.

Stuart Reynolds: The Province of BC has a Dam Safety Program and has just passed specific Dam Safety Regulations.

Don Bathurst: Some of that I believe is in response to the concerns of the IJC commissioner who is from BC.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for being with us today, Don. I hope your event in May will be successful in raising awareness of this issue. Can you put up your email address for any follow up?

Don Bathurst: Follow up questions or issues can be posted on the FEMA web site, <http://www.fema.gov>, directed to the attention of dam safety.

Amy Sebring: Thank you. Please stand by a moment if you can while we take care of some announcements. Avagene, can you tell us what's on for next week, please?

Avagene Moore: Yes, Amy, thank you. And my personal thanks to you, Don, for a most informative presentation. I am sure our audience appreciates the information as well.

Next week, Wednesday April 26, 12:00 Noon EDT, we will feature Ann Willis, George Washington University (GWU), as she presents her research and findings based on "Technology in EM." Block off an hour for this dialogue in the Tech Arena next week. That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ava. If there are any announcements from the floor, please pop them in now. Thanks to all our participants today. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are welcome to remain for open discussion. You no longer need to use question marks.