Protecting dams is one of those types of emergency management functions that is critical to thousands of people, multiple states and even other surrounding nations as well. Dams in America are considered a critical infrastructure and key resource for various ideal reasons. A dam allows us to protect regions by controlling flooding and water zone areas. A dam also allows communities to provide drinking water and irrigation elements. Dams are important for society and they are important for the American way of life. But a dam is constantly vulnerable to various types of threats including hazards that are in natural, human-caused and technological in nature. It is important that we created innovative methods of strengthening the security of our nation’s dam infrastructure.


Workplace Emergency Response Planning


I wanted to write this article about dam infrastructure protection because I feel that it relates to my expertise. Dams are most often found in rural and remote regions of the country. With that being said, it is the rural and remote regions that experience the most significant challenges concerning emergency management and critical infrastructure protection. There is one challenge in particular that I will be discussing with this article. The challenge is the fact that dams, being so rural but still widely used by the public whether for tourism or recreational reasons often lack the needed monitoring programs to help keep the infrastructure under further guard. My proposal within this article is to create a volunteer organization made up of dam officials, security officials from both public and private sectors and the interested residents living around the dam to monitor activities in regards to managing incidents and protecting dams for Americans all across the nation.


Protecting Dams with a Citizen Dam Watch Organization

One innovating idea to strengthen the critical infrastructure protection of our dam facilities is to create a volunteer citizen program with the functions of monitoring the dam facility to help promote security awareness and report suspicious activities when they are present. Many dams are often open to the public whether it is for recreation or tourism and such openness of these facilities will hinder some kind of security and make them vulnerable to attacks and potential safety risks to the public visiting these facilities. Damage to a dam facility can be devastating as well – lives can be lost, economic infrastructure can be impacted, drinking water can be tainted and the homeland security of the nation can be weakened. A citizen-based volunteer dam watch program made up of interested and local parties will only intensify the security and preparedness of a dam facility in the end as long as the program is properly organized and maintained.


Dam Watch ideas has worked elsewhere

In our history, we can actually look at several other related citizen programs made up of volunteers who have made a difference in monitoring for the strengthening of local preparedness and security. For this case, we’ll look at two of these organizations – Skywarn and the Neighborhood Crime Watch Program. Skywarn is a volunteer organization created in the 1970s with partnership of the National Weather Service. Skywarn volunteers observe and report local severe weather conditions to their communities, aiding in quicker warning times and confirming severe weather events for damage assessment teams. Skywarn has been though to save countless lives for the efforts made by volunteer storm spotters. The Neighborhood Crime Watch Program is another innovative volunteer citizen program where residents “patrol” their neighborhoods and report suspicious behaviors to local law enforcement. Neighborhood Crime Watch members have saved lives and helped to shape community policing strategies in America as a whole. Comparing these two innovative and needed organizations next to the idea of a dam watch organization can show the benefits of forming such an organization. What can it really hurt to ask the community to help out – since emergency management is a Whole Community effort to begin with, right?


The Impacts of Dam Failure

Just because dams are not under constant attack doesn’t mean they are not vulnerable to natural, technological and human-caused hazards and incidents. It seems like, at times, if we don’t hear about specific infrastructure experiencing some type of disaster, we forget about the fact that these infrastructures can indeed fail or become victim to some sort of attack. An attack or failure at a dam facility would likely be chaotic in nature. It could very well result in significant loss of life and injury, extreme flooding that costs millions to even billions of dollars for recovery, significant environmental damage, toxicity in human consumption and industrial use and extremely negative impacts on the national economy. To be blunt, dams is one of the more critical infrastructure that we often may overlook and that is not a good thing to overlook. With a dam watch program, we can help fill in the gaps of risks that come with having such an infrastructure.


Thank you for taking the time to read my article about dam preparedness. This article has mainly focused on my argument of creating a dam watch program, utilizing volunteers who want to serve which enables us to save of budgeting with preparedness in mind. I encourage you to share this article with other and especially on social media if you have enjoyed it. Please comment if you have additional constructive information to share about the general topic of dam safety, security and infrastructure preparedness.

About the Author

Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn J. GossmanB.S., M.S., M.B.A., SEM, PDS
Shawn J. Gossman is an article and publication contributor of rural and remote-based emergency management, continuity and public health topics. Shawn holds a Master of Science concentrating in Emergency Management and a MBA in Hazardous Environment Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Shawn is dedicated to helping rural communities and organizations be a part of the Whole Community approach of National Preparedness.