Dam risks informational gap

Dam risks informational gap

Sep 9th, 2020

Dam risks informational gap impacts to a certain extent all dams:

  • hydro,
  • tailings and finally,
  • toxic dumps.

Dam risks informational gap

There are thousands of active dams around the world significantly different because of:

  • age,
  • function,
  • materials,
  • construction style and care,
  • maintenance care and finally
  • “behavior” or performance.

Oroville dam was one of those, like other recent mining catastrophes and the Michigan failures.

What do all dams have in common?

Dams are all exposed to hazards, e.g. natural, man-made such as excess of confidence, etc. Furthermore, they all have, to extents that are sometimes worrisome, gaps in their documented history, past incidents, etc. These informational gaps and over-confidence may lead to normalization of deviance and other issues as shown by forensic studies. No dam fails because of one single cause.

So, beyond the intricacies of engineering analyses, humanity, with the cohort of retiring baby-boomers leaving with their knowledge, is facing an information gap which makes managing the world-wide dam portfolio very difficult, and daunting. Indeed, even when analyzing cases in Brazil, where, by law, owners have to build a specific document collection for each dam, we see blatant gaps in the available information.

In our day-to-day practice of quantitative risk assessment for large infrastructural portfolios we are confronted with this information gap. In the world of mining the new Global Industry Tailings Management code has come out. It addresses to a certain extent this gap, but in very generic terms, and aims at promoting communication.

There are ways around this information gap, but no panacea

Dam risks informational gap can be addressed using various approaches:

Each one brings in some benefits, but some of these, especially if poorly applied, may even be counterproductive.

Finally, as mentioned above, risk communication has to be fostered. This requires a big education effort as technical risks have to be properly conveyed to the public, in such a manner they can be understood and evaluated.

In our day-to-day practice we use specific and pertinent benchmarks to anchor this communication to historic reality.

 Closing remarks on dam risks informational gap

Our society, the public may have grown too accustomed to see infrastructural problems, such as dams, as isolated engineering problems, whereas actually they constitute a global “informational conundrum”.

Thus, we formulate a number of remarks:

  • Neither a dam per dam engineering approach alone nor new technologies alone can solve the problem we are facing.
  • We need reasonable, sustainable blended approaches deployed at large scale to cope with the challenges that climate change will inevitably amplify.
  • Methodologies exist, but they are seldom applied in a consistent manner.
  • “Political” and corporate will are burgeoning under media and public pressure.
  • Let’s keep in mind that no human activity exists without risks and finally that
  • the point is to properly evaluate and prioritize dam risks in order to develop sustainable and ethically acceptable mitigation policies and plans.

Contact Riskope for swift deployment of modern, proven quantitative risk assessment of your dams portfolio.

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Category: Consequences, Hazard, Mitigations, Probabilities, Risk analysis, Risk management, Uncategorized

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