Dams are designed to be safe and structurally stable even in the most severe weather. When a dam is built, construction and design engineers work to insure the dam quality. There is also an inspection process to make certain that the dam is built to structural specifications. After the dam is built, it is regularly inspected to identify potential problems, take corrective actions and possibly investigate the nature of the problem if needed.
Most damns are operated and maintained by regular staff persons who conduct inspections as they go about their work day. These inspections are typically weekly or monthly. These employees are trained to identify problems with the dam. Engineers also conduct annual inspections of major features of the dam. This can also include a review of the performance of the dam. These annual reviews often contain recommendations for minor changes to avoid future problems. An in-depth inspection should also be conducted at least every five years or less. For this major inspection, the engineers must be fully familiar with the design plans and maintenance history of the dam. Trained and experienced inspectors test all operating equipment, including gates and valves. The findings are documented and corrective actions are recommended and scheduled.
The inspectors, engineers and regular dam staff are highly trained individuals. They receive regular safety trainings and updates to keep staff ready for potential maintenance issues and the possibility of an evacuation. Staff members are usually trained upon hiring and receive annual refresher courses. Engineers receive a more advanced technical training. Most dam staff is trained and equipped to communicate with local emergency officials In the event of a flood or other dam emergency. They are regularly briefed on changes to flood emergency plans, which are regularly reviewed and changed to maximize effectiveness. Emergency training drills are often conducted to ensure that every stage of the emergency operation plan is fully functioning. Staff is prepared to respond to potential problems that might be identified through regular maintenance inspections. Each facility should have a flood emergency plan in place.
Human inspections of the dam are not the only method of monitoring maintenance needs. Many dams have the ability to monitor and record changes in water pressure and movement. These readings are recoded regularly. Incidents like leaks or seepage can also be detected and recorded. This information is collected and used as part of the regular inspection process.