How to Handle Dam Failure Near Your Home

by Becky BlantonMay 2, 2017

Are you living near one of the more than 15,000 high-hazard potential dams in the United States that could kill you if it failed?

Who is Most at Risk?

According to FEMA, there are about 15,000 dams in the United States that are classified as having a high-hazard potential. That means if they fail, they could cause loss of life. It’s not such a far-fetched idea.

More than 190,000 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes when the Oroville, California Dam auxiliary spillway failed in February of this year. The Oroville Dam is the country’s tallest dam and is upstream of the town of Oroville, with its more than 190,000 residents. Winter rain and rising lake waters forced officials to open an auxiliary spillway that hadn’t been used since the dam was constructed in 1968.

Almost immediately that proved to be a disaster. The escaping water eroded the bare earth at the upper lip of the spillway resulting in the threat of a complete failure of the spillway, and the uncontrolled release of waters. Those waters could have flooded the town of Oroville and killed thousands of residents fleeing the area due to a forced evacuation.

Fortunately, the spillway held and disaster was temporarily averted. According to scientists and engineers, there is still a risk of future flooding. The incident left millions of homeowners living near dams across the country wondering if they too could be at risk. Oroville residents, most of whom have since returned to their homes, are also wondering if it’s time to reconsider living near a dam.

While Oroville residents are now highly conscious of the risks of living downstream from a dam millions of other homeowners aren’t even aware they are near a dam or are at risk themselves.

Boulder, Colorado, for instance, is a high hazard flood area with a history of flooding. The high-risk flood area includes the City of Boulder facilities, University of Colorado married student housing, many residences, businesses and Boulder High School. They are only one city among the thousands across America that are at risk. What can you do if you’re in a high-risk area?

Protect Your investment in Case of a Flood


No dam is flood proof. You can’t stop a flood, but you can make sure the damage to your home and property is reduced or mitigated. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I) recommends the following for anyone living in or near a flood zone:

Get insurance. “Standard homeowners, renters, and business insurance policies do not cover flood-caused damage. A separate flood insurance policy is needed,” said Janet Ruiz, the I.I.I.’s California Representative. Ruiz said Flood insurance is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as well as private insurance companies. She also said that NFIP policies have a 30-day waiting period before the coverage is activated. Don’t just settle for what NFIP offers. Contact an agent or find out how much coverage you need before you need it. To learn more about flood insurance, visit FloodSmart.gov.

FEMA says the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from the effects of a dam failure begins with finding out if there is an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in place in your area. An EAP is a formal document outlining and detailing the government’s evacuation plan by emergency response teams in your area. If you live in an area with an EAP plan the plan will detail when, where and how to evacuate safely in case of a dam failure. To find out if your state/area has an EAP, call 1-800-FEMA-MAP, or go to FEMA’s Dam Safety web site.

To find out if an EAP is in place, contact your State or emergency management agency, or visit the National Inventory of Dams website. If your area does not have an EAP, you can read up on the guidelines for developing one.

If your home or business is near a river, lake, stream, creek, dam or any other body of water, the I.I.I. recommends taking these three steps to assess your property’s flood risks.

  • Contact your insurance professional. Take the time to ask questions and be sure you understand all of your insurance options. It will help you make informed decisions about your insurance coverage.
  • Prepare an emergency plan. The I.I.I.’s free mobile app, Know Your Plan, makes it easy to be ready when disaster strikes. Preparedness information is also available from FEMA’s Ready.gov and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Ready Nation.
  • Conduct a home inventory. Documenting your belongings will help you buy the right amount, and type, of insurance. A home inventory also makes filing claims easier and can be used to document financial losses when filing tax returns or applying for post-disaster financial assistance. Using the I.I.I.’s Know Your Stuff app will ensure you have an updated home inventory, accessible anywhere, anytime.

To find out if your home is at risk of flooding, enter your address at the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) website.


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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.

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