Community safety: Why you should be prepared for dam failure

Fact: there are way more dams than the Hoover Dam in the United States. Actually, there are over 87,000 dams across the country. There are nearly six times more dams than McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.
The Norris Dam in Tennessee
Norris Dam, Tennessee
Photo credit // Tennessee Valley Authority

There’s probably a dam close to where you live.  Dams are used for flood protection, power, recreation and more.

We all have to know the dangers to stay safe around dams. First and foremost, find out if you live near a dam. Call your local leaders to find out who owns and regulates dams near you. Ask if there is an emergency action plan in place in case there is a problem and how residents will be alerted during an emergency. Just like when preparing for a flood, know
your evacuation route and have emergency supplies packed to go. And be sure to have flood insurance.

The Fresno Dam, just north of Havre, Montana
The Fresno Dam created a major lake and
protects many communities in Montana.
Photo credit // Bureau of Reclamation
Around a third of dams pose a high risk to people and property if they fail, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  The nation’s dams are aging, and there are a lot of reasons a dam can fail. Most people who live in “inundation zones” — aka the areas that would be flooded if a dam fails — don’t know they’re at risk.

One cause of dam failures is extreme storms. Keep a battery-operated radio in your emergency stockpile for updates on the water level if the power goes out during a storm.

If you swim in a lake made by a dam, stay away from the dam itself. There are often hidden pipes that suck in water. You definitely don’t want to be near one of those. Avoid the other side of the dam where the water comes out. Water levels can change fast because of how some dams work. This means that a calm stream can turn into a river in just a few minutes or even seconds.

For more information on getting ready for floods, check out our Get Ready fact sheet.

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