Archive for January, 2011

Dams: An Unlikely Source of Disaster or Are They?

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Author: John Kimball, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

Recently, I completed a couple of projects dealing with the emergency planning for dams. At first, this seemed to be quite an innocuous subject. Dams help control floods and provide water for consumption, power generation, and recreational use.  As I researched the subject and quantified the anecdotal information, the sheer number of emergencies and the resultant loss of life were far more than I expected.  The Johnstown, PA, flood of 1889, caused by a series of dam collapses, is still the worst single-event loss of life in America due to natural causes. 2,209 people of all ages lost their lives in this epic American tragedy.

Other large loss events involving dams were:

  • Saint Francis Dam, Los Angeles CA, March 12-13, 1928, up to 600 lives lost
  • Buffalo Creek, WV; Feb 26, 1972 125 lives lost, 16 communities wiped out
  • Canyon Lake Dam, Rapid City SD, June 9, 1972, 238 lives lost
  • Teton Dam; Idaho, June 5, 1976, 11 lives lost, 25,000 homeless
  • Laurel Run, near Johnstown PA., July 1977, 40 lives lost
  • Kelly Barnes Dam, Toccoa Falls, GA, Nov 6, 1977, 39 lives lost
  • Lawn Lake Dam, Colorado July 15, 1982, 3 lives lost
  • Kakoko Reservoir Dam, Kauia, HA, Mar 14, 2006, 7 lives lost


Dams, however, are not just for power generation and flood control, but also for the impoundment of industrial waste. (more…)