Renewed Focus on Emergency Action Plans

Renewed Focus on Emergency Action Plans

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Owners of dams, particularly those with high-risk classifications, develop and regularly test Emergency Action Plans, known as EAPs. These plans are put into action should an incident or a failure occur.

These owners take very seriously the process of preparing and testing the plans, in order to protect both life and property in areas close to their projects. As infrastructure ages, and with the growing incidents of 1,000 year floods, EAPs, and the regular updating of these emergency plans, become all the more important.

Now, lawmakers are taking a closer look at this planning tool.

An increased focus on EAPs is taking place in legislation on the state and federal levels as efforts to increase the safety of dams and other infrastructure throughout the United States become more prevalent.

For example, a bill currently in Michigan’s legislature calls for an owner to annually review any emergency action plan and prepare and submit updated and accurate EAPs, as well as periodically exercise the plan. This comes after a 19-member Michigan Dam Safety Task Force developed a report that provided recommendations to improve the state’s dam safety policies.

And, California’s Division of Dam Safety (DSOD) recently proposed administrative actions that includes the submittal of an EAP with its Request for Information.

On the federal level, the Twenty-first Century Dam Act recently introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate increases federal assistance to improve dam safety. Specifically, the act would amend the National Dam Safety Act to include U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ inspection of non-federal dams not under state or federal regulatory authority, including requiring the development of an EAP, unless the Secretary of Army determines there is no  threat to loss of life and property. The bill also provides assistance for state dam safety programs, many of which are underfunded, to support the development of EAPs. Increased funding for staffing of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also laid out in the bill.

The Deep Dive: What Is an EAP?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines an EAP as “a formal document that identifies potential emergency conditions at a dam and specifies actions to be followed to minimize loss of life and property damage.” According to FEMA, an EAP includes:

  • Actions the dam owner will take to moderate or alleviate a problem at the dam
  • Actions the dam owner will take, and in coordination with emergency management
    authorities, to respond to incidents or emergencies related to the dam
  • Procedures dam owners will follow to issue early warning and notification messages to
    responsible downstream emergency management authorities
  • Inundation maps to help dam owners and emergency management authorities identify
    critical infrastructure and population-at-risk sites that may require protective measures,
    warning, and evacuation planning
  • Delineation of the responsibilities of all those involved in managing an incident or
    emergency and how the responsibilities should be coordinated

An EAP is essentially a tool used in concert with state and local emergency management authorities in the event of an emergency situation.

An EAP is made up of six basic elements:

  • Notification flowcharts and contact information – A flowchart illustrating the process of notification that is to occur in the event of an emergency to ensure timely notification of needed actions.
  • Response process – establishes procedures for reliable and timely classification of an emergency situation.
    • Step 1: Incident detection, evaluation, and emergency level determination
    • Step 2: Notification and communication: after the emergency level at the dam has been determined, notifications are made in accordance with the EAP’s Notification Flowchart(s)
    • Step 3: Emergency actions: after the initial notifications have been made, the dam owner will act to save the dam and minimize impacts to life, property, and the environment. During this step, there is a continuous process of taking actions, assessing the status of the situation, and keeping others informed through communication channels established during the initial notifications
    • Step 4: Termination and follow-up: explains the process to follow and the criteria for determining that the incident at the dam has been resolved
  • Responsibilities – Specifies the responsibilities of all involved entities to ensure that effective and timely action is taken.
  • Preparedness activities – Actions taken before an emergency to moderate or alleviate the effects of a dam failure or operational spillway release and to facilitate response to emergencies.
  • Inundation maps – An inundation map delineates the areas that would be flooded as a result of a dam failure.
  • Additional information in appendices – The appendices contain information that supports and supplements the material used in the development and maintenance of the EAP.

Owners of significant- and high-hazard dams regularly update their EAP as factors, such as changing water patterns, may have an effect on areas potentially impacted in the event of a failure.

What’s Next?

With the increasing federal and state attention toward this issue, non-federally regulated dams that have typically fallen under state regulation may now receive greater attention, including new funding to support reinvestment and development of EAPs.

This interest offers an opportunity for hydropower project owners to update their plans and have new partners within their states to coordinate their EAPs, conduct joint EAP testing, and ensure communication systems work well with each other.

The National Hydropower Association (NHA) will continue to monitor and report on federal actions, including actions in the House and Senate on the infrastructure and dam legislation recently introduced.