While May 31, 2021, will most notably be recognized (and celebrated) as Memorial Day, it (as acknowledged by FEMA), is also National Dam Safety Awareness Day. The annual event commemorates the worst dam failure in the history of the U.S., which occurred in Johnsontown, Pennsylvania, on May 31, 1889. It also brings to attention more recent major dam failures, including Michigan’s Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam, in May 2020, which put thousands of lives at risk and forced widespread evacuations. 

“Dams provide many benefits to everyone around the nation, including bringing water, power, flood control, recreation, and economic opportunities to communities,” says FEMA. “However, there are risks associated with dams, especially if a failure occurs.” As such, it is crucial for everyone who lives, works, or even travels near a dam to be aware of the risks and more importantly, take certain actions to protect themselves and others, as well as property, i.e., homes, businesses, critical infrastructure, etc. 

There are now more than 90,000 dams across the country, and a high number of them have received less than favorable Dam Safety Action Classification (DSAC) ratings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In fact, according to the 2018 update to the National Inventory of Dams, approximately one-third of those pose a “high” or “significant” hazard if failure occurs. 

The goal of National Dam Safety Awareness Day is “to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility and best practices for dam safety, as well as what steps can be taken to prevent catastrophic dam failures.”