Risk Assessments for Dam Safety – Where, When, Why, How??? An introduction into Risk Informed Decision Making for Dams

Risk Assessments and the use of Risk Informed Decision Making (RIDM) as it relates to evaluation of dam safety concerns have been used by many federal agencies for larger portfolios of dams for the past couple of decades. For many state, municipal, and private dam owners, however, the concept of RIDM and evaluating a dam considering risk, rather than only standards-based guidelines, may seem unnecessary or too daunting a task to consider. However, recent advances in risk assessment tools and guidelines, along with a shift in focus on including concepts of risk in dam rehabilitation grant programs, are leading to a paradigm shift in the dam safety industry when it comes to greater adoption of RIDM. Dam owners with responsibility for a portfolio of dams, for example, can take advantage of RIDM in a programmatic approach to inform and prioritize future capital investments into operation and maintenance of their dams – helping to maximize the return on their investments into dam rehabilitations and repairs. Often, dam owners without experience in RIDM can start with a risk screening process, tailored to their specific needs and budget constraints, to help them make informed and defendable decisions regarding use of limited capital budgets for dam maintenance or repair.

This presentation will provide attendees an overview of the various levels of risk assessments used in the dam safety industry, as well as provide guidelines for when to consider one level of assessment over another (screening, qualitative, semi-quantitative, or quantitative). Examples of use of RIDM at different levels for various dam owners will be provided, and the presentation will include a discussion of the scalability of risk assessments to the dam or portfolio of dams under consideration.  Finally, the use of RIDM within dam rehabilitation grant programs will be discussed (including FEMA’s HHPD Grants).