All dam joking aside, enhancing public safety around dams can be extremely helpful in preventing deaths and accidents in hydropower facilities. With the hints of spring awakening the recreating public in the northern hemisphere, a quick review of your public safety plan, its features and its efficacy can reduce the likelihood that your facilities will be involved in a public safety incident. Here are 5 areas you can check in to enhance public safety at your facilities.
1. Check your public safety plan
Audit the signs that should be up around your facilities. It is common to find that winter freeze, time or target practice have degraded your existing signs. Some owners remove their signs annually to protect them from the elements. Now is the time to replace damaged signs and reinstall any that have been removed for the winter season. Check your safety fences, buoys, portages, and other safety features to see that they are in good repair and ready.
2. Check your projects’ other public safety features
Are the horns sounding at the correct decibels, in the correct timing and the correct pattern? Do they go off when you open your gates, start your units or open up your valves? Do you need to update contacts for downstream residents? Are there new developments to consider?
3. Check social media related to your facilities
Do a quick search of common social media platforms to see how the public has been recreating at your facilities. Have any new trends popped up that could be dangerous? Do they still frequent out-of-the-way bends down river where water can rise suddenly? Are they somehow getting past typical barriers and enjoying less-than-conventional features of your facilities? Social media will tell you nearly everything. Simply search your facility by hashtags and geotags. Your public may astound you. If any new trends are popping up, make note. You will need to address those that present an intolerable risk to your company.
Simply search your facility by hashtags and geotags. Your public may astound you
4. Check local and national news outlets for articles regarding your facilities
Check in with the local authorities, including the Forest Service, Sheriff’s Department and/or camp hosts. You likely will have already been aware of deaths, but accidents sometimes are not reported. Reviewing this information will help inform you of the efficacy of your current public safety plan.
5. Check in on training
This cannot be stressed enough. Do your local responders know the dangers of rescuing someone from a low head dam? If done incorrectly, multiple rescuers could become victims as well. Do your camp hosts know what the public safety features are? Do they have fliers alerting the public to inherent dangers near them? Does your staff know what features are meant for public safety and why they are important? Have you had a community event or a local news spotlight about public safety? Can you hand out flyers at the ticket booth for your reservoir? These are all things that can be considered.
Every bit of information shared with your local staff, responders and residents is a potential life saved.
What happens after the check-ins?
After finishing your public safety spring check-in, you may find you are ready to go. You may also be thinking there is room for improvement. Can additional features—like log booms before and after low head dams—decrease the probability of an accident at your facility? Would it be better to remove a dangerous feature rather than discourage recreation on it? Did that check into social media open your eyes to some risky behavior? Then it’s time to update that plan and send the revised version, if needed, to your regulator.
This has been your dam PSA. As always, if you’re overwhelmed, I and my team are here to help.