National Dam Safety Awareness Day

May 31 is National Dam Safety Awareness Day, an event that commemorates the tragic failure of the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. On May 31, 1889, the worst dam failure in the history of the United States occurred and resulted in the loss of more than 2,200 lives and left thousands homeless.

Most recently in May 2020, there were major dam failures at Michigan’s Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam. Both dam failures put thousands of lives at risk and forced the evacuation or nearly 10,000 residents.

Dams provide many benefits to everyone around the nation including bringing water, power, flood control, recreation and economic opportunities to communities. However, there are risks associated with dams, especially if a failure occurs. If you live or work near a dam, you should be aware of these risks and take actions to increase your safety and the safety of your family, as well as the safety of your home or business.

There are more than 90,000 dams in the United States according to the 2018 update to the National Inventory of Dams. Approximately one-third of these pose a “high” or “significant” hazard to life and property if failure occurs.

Figure 1: Facts on dams in the United States

National Dam Safety Awareness Day seeks to promote individual and community responsibility and best practices for dam safety, raise awareness of the benefits dams offer, and highlight steps that can be taken to prevent future catastrophic dam failures.

FEMA is asking dam owners across the nation to help promote dam safety and raise awareness on this day. We have prepared template materials, as well as background information on National Dam Safety Awareness Day to assist your efforts here. For over 30 years, the federal government has been working to protect Americans from dam failure through the National Dam Safety Program. Led by FEMA, the program is a partnership of states, federal agencies and other stakeholders to encourage individual and community responsibility for dam safety. Make a difference in your community and join FEMA in support of National Dam Safety Awareness Day on May 31st.

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