Description & Background

Dam operators and first responders perform an EAP simulation exercise to rehearse emergency procedures.

“An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is one of the primary safeguards against the loss of life and property damage that can result from the failure of a high hazard potential dam. Today, there are approximately 8,300 state-regulated high hazard potential dams in the United States. Of these 8,300 dams, approximately 40 percent do not have an EAP.” ¹

The National Dam Safety Program encourages the implementation of effective EAPs for high and significant hazard dams in the United States. Though the program has certainly enhanced the safety and regulation of dams, considerable opportunities for improvement remain. Increasing the number of dams with an EAP and encouraging dam owners, dam operators, and emergency personnel to regularly update and practice their EAP are important goals of the program.

“An EAP is a formal document that identifies potential emergency conditions at a [high or significant hazard] dam and specifies actions to be followed to minimize loss of life and property damage. The EAP includes:

  • Actions the dam owner will take to moderate or alleviate a problem at the dam
  • Actions the dam owner will take 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” ²

Although EAPs are drafted with the intention of minimizing downstream consequences, the document itself cannot save lives and protect property downstream. Simply possessing an EAP does not ensure that communities downstream will be protected in the event of dam failure. In order to increase the chance of averting disastrous consequences during dam failure, EAPs must be understood and routinely practiced by all those involved. First, copies of the EAP should be distributed by the dam owner to anyone involved in its implementation. In order to present, simulate, and practice the information contained within the EAP document, orientation and emergency simulation exercises should be executed in the presence of dam operators and first responders.

Thorough reviews of a dam’s EAP should be conducted at least once a year to determine if it will remain effective or if modifications are necessary. Updates to an EAP may include the results of changes in contact information, flood inundation maps, downstream development (hazard creep), or emergency procedures. In the event that a portion of the EAP is altered, copies should be redistributed and routine practice resumed adhering to the newly revised plan.

Effective Emergency Action Plans are those that are updated, understood, and practiced by all persons involved. These EAPs harbor the potential to save lives and preserve property downstream of a dam in the event of failure.


(1) FEMA. (2007).  Emergency Action Planning for State Regulated High-Hazard Potential Dams:  Findings, Recommendations, and Strategies.  Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

(2) FEMA. (2013).  Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety:  Emergency Action Planning for Dams. Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

(3) ASDSO.  What is the National Dam Safety & Security Program and Why Should it Continue?  Lexington: Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

(4) FEMA. (2006).  National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System:  CRS Credit for Dam Safety.  Federal Emergency Management Agency.

(5) FEMA. (2004).  The National Dam Safety Program:  25 Years of Excellence.  Federal Emergency Management Agency.





Case Studies

Austin (Bayless) Dam (Pennsylvania, 1911)

Austin Dam (also known as Bayless Dam) was constructed between May and November of 1909 just outside Austin, Pennsylvania, a town of approximately 2,500 people in Potter County.

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Baldwin Hills Dam (California, 1963)

The Baldwin Hills Reservoir was constructed in 1951 to provide water to the south and southwest portions of the city of Los Angeles, California. Sitting atop one of the tallest hills in the region, the reservoir was confined on three sides by compacted earth dikes...

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Big Bay Lake Dam (Mississippi, 2004)

A number of the site conditions, design and construction details, and the distress indicators that developed between the initial reservoir filling and failure combine to suggest a complex internal erosion...

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Columbia River Levees at Vanport (Oregon, 1948)

On May 30, 1948, rising floodwaters of the Columbia River breached a railroad fill acting as a levee and flooded the city of Vanport, Oregon. At the time, Vanport was Oregon’s second largest city and World War II’s largest federal housing project.

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Hebgen Dam (Montana, 1959)

Just before midnight on August 17th 1959 in southwest Montana, in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park, a Mw 7.3 earthquake caused an estimated 36 to 43 million cubic yard rockslide to rapidly cross the Madison River and continue up the opposite canyon...

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Kelly Barnes Dam (Georgia, 1977)

Kelly Barnes Dam was located approximately a half mile upstream (north) of Toccoa Falls Bible College in Stephens County, Georgia. Toccoa Falls, a 186-foot-high waterfall, was located between the dam and the college. The dam site was originally the location...

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Kinugawa Levee at Joso (Japan, 2015)

Beginning around September 6, 2015, Tropical Storm Etau together with Tropical Depression Kilo began dropping excessive rainfall across northeast Japan. The interaction of the two systems caused them to stall and concentrate rainfall in a narrow band over the Kinugawa watershed.

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Laurel Run Dam (Pennsylvania, 1977)

Constructed between 1915 and 1918, Laurel Run Dam was a rockfill dam erected across Laurel Run near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It was built to replace a smaller dam in order to provide water for drinking and industrial needs...

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Lawn Lake Dam (Colorado, 1982)

Lawn Lake Dam was located in Rocky Mountain National Park upstream of Estes Park, Colorado. It was an embankment dam and constructed in 1903 and owned by an irrigation company.  It fell within the National Park Boundary...

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Lower San Fernando Dam (California, 1971)

The Lower San Fernando Dam (LSFD) was built by the Los Angeles Bureau of Water Works and Supply (predecessor of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP)) as part of the terminal storage system for the Los Angeles Aqueduct that included the adjacent Upper San Fernando Dam and several other dams in southern California.

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Additional Case Studies (Not Yet Developed)

  1. Lake Needwood Dam (Maryland, 2006)
  2. Meadow Pond Dam (New Hampshire, 1996)
  3. Percy Quin Dam/Lake Tangipahoa Dam (Mississippi, 2012)

Best Practices

Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety: Emergency Action Planning for Dams

Author: Federal Emergency Management Agency
Date Published: 2013

Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety: Hazard Potential Classification System for Dams

Author: Federal Emergency Management Agency
Date Published: 2004

Training Aids for Dam Safety: Dam Safety Awareness

Author: Interagency Committee on Dam Safety

Training Aids for Dam Safety: Evaluation of Facility Emergency Preparedness

Author: Interagency Committee on Dam Safety
Date Published: 1988

Training Aids for Dam Safety: How to Develop and Implement an Emergency Action Plan

Author: Interagency Committee on Dam Safety
Date Published: 1989

Other Resources

What is the National Dam Safety & Security Program and Why Should it Continue?

Author: Association of State Dam Safety Officials

Summary published by ASDSO

Emergency Action Planning for Owners

Author: Association of State Dam Safety Officials

EAP Resource Center: Guidance Documents, Tools, and Templates

Engineering Guidelines for the Evaluation of Hydropower Projects: Chapter 6, Emergency Action Plans

Author: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Guidelines for FERC

The National Dam Safety Program: 25 Years of Excellence

Author: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Publication by FEMA

Flood Emergency Plans: Guidelines for Corps Dams

Author: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Guidelines for USACE

A Guide to Public Alerts and Warnings for Dam and Levee Emergencies

Author: USACE Risk Management Center

Guidebook published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers