Expert Report

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Although advances in engineering can reduce the risk of dam and levee failure, some failures will still occur. Such events cause impacts on social and physical infrastructure that extend far beyond the flood zone. Broadening dam and levee safety programs to consider community- and regional-level priorities in decision making can help reduce the risk of, and increase community resilience to, potential dam and levee failures. Collaboration between dam and levee safety professionals at all levels, persons and property owners at direct risk, members of the wider economy, and the social and environmental networks in a community would allow all stakeholders to understand risks, shared needs, and opportunities, and make more informed decisions related to dam and levee infrastructure and community resilience. Fundamental shifts in safety culture will be necessary to integrate the concepts of resilience into dam and levee safety programs.

Key Messages

  • The dam and levee community comprises dam and levee safety professionals, and other individuals, groups, and institutions that benefit from the continued and safe functioning of dam and levee infrastructure—whether or not those benefits are recognized by the individual community members.
  • Community resilience is a community effort, and dam and levee safety professionals are part of the community.
  • Those subject to the direct or indirect impacts of dam or levee failure are also those with the opportunity to reduce the consequences of failure through physical and social changes in the community, community growth planning, safe housing construction, financial planning (including bonds and insurance), and development of the capacity to adapt to change.
  • Current policy and practices restrict access to information critical to public risk awareness, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, and community capacity for adaptation. Dam and levee safety processes and products (such as inspections, Emergency Action Plans, and inundation maps) are intended to support decision making and enhanced community resilience, but are not readily available to all community members and stakeholders who make those decisions.
  • Enhancing resilience will be most successful when dam and levee safety professionals and other community members and stakeholders identify and manage risk collaboratively in ways that increase understanding and communication of risks, shared needs, and opportunities.
  • Risk-informed approaches allow dam and levee professionals to improve their understanding of infrastructure-system operations, performance, vulnerabilities, and the consequences of potential failures, and allow them and the broader community to make better decisions related to dam and levee infrastructure and resilience.
  • Improving dam and levee safety programs to emphasize processes that enhance community resilience requires a culture shift among dam and levee professionals. This new emphasis requires embracing the responsibilities—and the benefits—associated with developing and implementing collaborative risk-management processes that facilitate enhanced community resilience.
  • The federal government can aid resilience-enhancing efforts by identifying cataloging, further developing, communicating, and facilitating the use of tools and guidance that already exist in the published literature and in federal and state guidelines. Many existing tools may need little or no modification to be useful for enhancing community resilience for specific situations. Cataloging existing tools is a first step in identifying and setting priorities for developing necessary new tools.
  • Collaborative efforts that become a normal part of community functioning will enhance resilience more successfully in the long term. Continuous improvements in community resilience are more likely if such processes as community and stakeholder engagement assessment are institutionalized by dam and levee safety programs and the broader community.
  • Enhancing resilience requires frequent and collective evaluation of risk, safety, and collaborative processes. The report proposes a Maturity Matrix for Assessing Community Engagement that can be used by dam and levee safety professionals, community members and stakeholders, and government entities at all levels to benchmark and manage the progress of industry and community processes related to safety and engagement. Details of assessment are necessarily unique for each community. The federal government can assist communities by providing an initial framework for the assessment tool, and providing information and training for its development and continued use at the community level.