2016 – Warning and Mobilization of Populations at Risk of Dam Failure

Jason Needham, John Sorensen, Dennis Mileti, Simon Lang

The potential loss of life from floods, including those caused by dam failure, is sensitive to assumptions about warning and evacuation of the population at risk. Therefore, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers engaged with social scientists to better understand the process of warning and mobilizing communities that experience severe flooding. This improved understanding enables dam owners to better assess the existing risk posed by their assets and investigate non-structural risk reduction measures alongside structural upgrades.

In this paper, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research is summarised to provide general guidance on the warning and mobilization of populations at risk for practitioners assessing the potential loss of life from dam failure. This includes commentary and quantification of three primary timeframes: warning issuance delay, warning diffusion, and protective action initiation. A questionnaire for estimating these parameters is also introduced, alongside a case study application for an Australian dam.

This paper also summarises the current understanding of how to reduce delays in determining when to issue warnings, increase speed at which warnings spread through communities, and decrease the time people spend before taking the recommended protective action. These insights will help all people involved with emergency management, including those tasked with developing Dam Safety Emergency Plans.

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