Dam failures and incidents are usually high-stress events and often occur without much warning. Furthermore, these events are somewhat rare and dam owners and regulators likely have little experience in investigating these events. Therefore, this guideline is intended to assist organizations and individuals involved in dam safety with preparing for, responding to, and investigating dam failures and incidents using shared lessons from previous dam incidents and failure experiences.

Competent and independent investigations serve the following purposes:

  • To determine the physical causes of failure.
  • To understand contributing human factors, including organizational and cultural factors.
  • To better support communication with the public and the press.
  • To increase the public’s knowledge of dam safety and reestablish trust.
  • To improve understanding of warning signs of dam distress.
  • To improve dam safety engineering and regulation and reduce the potential for future failures.
  • To learn what went right and recognize efforts and successes.

As with any guide, it is expected that some refinements may be identified as more investigations are completed. As such, this guide is being issued as a “living document”, with the expectation that applicable revisions or updates will be made as necessary. The initial version was published in December 2011. This current version 2.0, dated March 2021, features revisions from lessons learned during the past ten years.

Download the 2021 Dam Failure and Incident Investigation Guide
Visit ASDSO Resource Page