For most people, hydroelectric dam safety is not exactly top-of-mind, but the recent Oroville Dam situation in California is a reminder of the inherent risk. Yes, hydroelectric energy is a fantastic source of clean energy, but history indicates that dams may be prone to collapse. In fact, a recent analysis suggests that hydroelectric dams might be one of the most dangerous sources of power in the world.
Example of a Horrific Hydroelectric Dam Disaster
If you want links to the statistical analysis, click here. But to sum it up, hydroelectric dams are 46 times more likely to experience a disaster compared to the safest type of energy to produce, nuclear power. One of the most catastrophic examples involved a gigantic hydroelectric dam that China build in the early 1950s on the Ruhe River. About 25 years after being built, the massive dam collapsed after a typhoon crashed into the area, unleashing a wall of water measuring 20 feet high and over 7 miles wide. The immediate death toll was 85,000 people, but the total death toll is estimated to be 230,000 people thanks to the resultant disease and famine that plagued the region.
What It Means for Utility Emergency Preparedness
So, what does this mean for emergency preparedness in the utility space? Well, I think it means a lot. Water, gas and electric utilities with service territories located in proximity to a hydroelectric dam must incorporate the risk of collapse and flood into emergency plans. For example, have you ever attempted an outage restoration when the service territory was literally under water? I have, and believe me this is a unique situation that needs to be accounted for from a process and training perspective. Simply put, if you are located near a hydroelectric dam, flood scenarios, as well as evacuation protocols, must be included in emergency exercises and drills.