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  • Dam Problems: A National Concern

    Dams. They’re everywhere! According to National Geographic, there are about 90,000 dams in the United States. And, just like people, they age. And when they age, they start falling apart.

    Recent news has been inundated with California’s Oroville Dam and the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people that took place over the weekend due to a failing spillway. If the Oroville Dam’s spillway were to fail, the results would be catastrophic. And, just this past weekend, we’ve seen that such a failure is very plausible.

    So what about the thousands of other dams across the nation?

    Herein lies the problem. Many of the dams dotting the countryside were constructed as low-hazard dams, put in place to protect agricultural land; land that was, at that time, undeveloped. Now, however, cities have since expanded and the formerly undeveloped land is now the home to thousands (if not millions). In fact, Oroville (for which the dam is named) has practically doubled in size since the dam was constructed.

     

    Oroville Dam spillway - by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources Heavy water flow at the Oroville Dam spillway - Photo by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources

     

    How Old is Old?

    Dams don’t seem to age as well as people (so consider yourself lucky you were born a human and not a dam), but despite that flaw, they can still live for quite some time, albeit a little fragile. Only 4.5% of all U.S. dams were built since the year 2000 (4,000 dams). The oldest, however, were built before 1900 (2.8%). Most, however, were built between 1950 and 1980. And those are the ones considered old.

    The average age is 52, according to USA Today. Getting up there in age, but not quite ready for retirement. Perhaps we could squeeze just a few more years of work out of them… Still, because of how dams age,

    The problem with keeping these dams in operation is that nearly 15,500 dams are high-hazard. That means if these dams were to break, at least one person would be killed, but many more would be likely (the term “high-hazard” actually has no relation to the dam’s actual condition). Add that to the fact that “nearly 1 in 5 lack an emergency action plan,” and countless people are living in very dangerous conditions – most likely without even knowing it!

    USA Today reported that only three states – Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee – have emergency plans in place for all high-hazard dams. It would appear that everywhere else is, well…hosed.

    Fortunately, there are ways to prepare. If we look at the Oroville Dam evacuation, there are some important lessons to be learned that will help you be safe should you be faced with a similar predicament.

     

    1. Get an Emergency Kit

    Emergency kits are life savers in a very literal sense. They have the gear and supplier you need to survive an emergency, and should contain enough to last you for at least three days. Kits should contain gear for warmth, communication, light, and other essentials. Food and water is also important.

     

    1. A Full Tank

    If you have a car, truck, or other similar mode of transportation (which most people do these days), keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. During the Oroville Dam evacuation, many people were stranded on the road because of gridlock, their vehicles out of fuel because they couldn’t get to a gas station to fill up. Also, many gas stations shut down due to lack of fuel, causing more problems for motorists.

     

    1. A Place to Stay

    Many evacuees were without a home, forced to dwell in shelters, churches, and anywhere else they could find a roof. The no vacancy lights on the surrounding hotels, inns, and other temporary housing units lit up almost instantaneously following the evacuation order.

    In a different scenario, perhaps you won’t even be able to find shelter? Maybe everything will already be full? What then? That’s where a shelter comes in. A tent, a tarp…anything you can use to protect yourself from the elements can be quite handy when you have no place to go. Prepare now for the worst, and the worst will be better than expected.

     

     

    All in all, disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. There is always something. Nobody is immune. That’s why preparing for the future is vital. Take some time today – while the metaphorical sun shines – to get your emergency prep together. Make sure you have everything you need for yourself and your family. If you’re missing things, don’t delay; make time to acquire those items.

    Because when the next disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.

     

    Written by Steven M.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Dam

  • Oroville Dam Emergency Evacuates 188,000 People

    Oroville Dam Spillway - via Metabunk The progression of the spillway's damage after one night - via Metabunk

    You may have heard of the Oroville Dam, California’s second-largest reservoir, that's about to break and flood the entire state of California (take that, drought!). Well, those reports may be a tad over exaggerated. No, the Oroville Dam is not going to break.

    The emergency spillway, however, may fail.

     

    The Spillway Spilled

    Apparently there's a big, gaping hole in the emergency spillway which could continue to erode, thus causing the water to go off the side. That will cause a much faster erosion, opening up more room for damage and heavy flooding.

    70 Miles Downstream in Sacramento - via Metabunk Oroville Dam 70 Miles downriver in Sacramento - via Metabunk

    As the spillway continues to release the kraken dam lake water, flooding is inevitable. To make things worse, flooding downriver has already begun. The image to the right shows what the water levels were like in Sacramento on Sunday. Levels certainly are high with flooding already happening, but Monday and Tuesday are expected to be rainless and dry, which will help the situation. However, there is another round of rain expected later on in the week which could last for several days.

    At the time of this writing, however, things have calmed down, as Lake Oroville water levels have dropped past 901 feet, which is the level when the lake water spills into the spillway. But all is not completely peachy at the spillway. According to the Sacramento Bee, severe damage is expected to have occurred on the main spillway from water releasing so quickly.

     

    Gridlocked and Gasless

    Gas Station Backup - via Sacramento Bee Oroville Dam Queue for gas as residents evacuate - via Sacramento Bee

    At least 188,000 people were evacuated downriver from the Oroville Dam. As you might think, the order to evacuate caused a bit of panic, which, in turn, resulted in a gridlock on Sunday night. Some people were stuck in their cars on the side of the road, their gas indicator on red. Gas stations along the evacuation route had shut off the pumps, all out of gas. Fuel was certainly difficult to come by. An easy fix to this is to always keep your vehicle filled to at least half a tank. That way, if you are forced to evacuate without much warning (indeed, these people only had about an hour’s notice), you can at least get past the high-traffic areas until you find a less congested gas station to fill up at.

     

    Nowhere to Sleep

    With the mass exodus that ensued following the flood threat, hotels in Sacramento and a nearby county filled up fast. What would you do if you couldn’t find a place to stay? By having some form of emergency shelter (i.e. a tent), you could at least find a nice patch of grass on which to camp out (uphill from the flood threat, of course). If you already have a tent, this impromptu campout is a less-expensive alternative to hunting down a vacant hotel room (bonus: camping is fun!).

     

    At the time of this writing, the situation is improving, but with more rain on the horizon, the threat level could rise once again. Emergencies can happen to anyone in any location. The Oroville Dam incident is specific to a few hundred thousand people, yes, but other unforeseen disasters could threaten your area without a moment’s notice. Use today to be prepared for tomorrow, and get your emergency gear together as soon as you can.

     

    Written by Steven M.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Oroville Dam

  • North Carolina Floods at Record Levels Following Hurricane Matthew

    flooded-street-in-nc-fema-photo North Carolina Floods North Carolina Floods - Photo courtesy of FEMA

    Hurricane Matthew brought torrential rain to the Southeast and, days later, flooding is still as high as ever. In Lumberton, N.C., the flood waters stretch on for 3 miles down certain streets. Princeville, N.C. was devastated by Hurricane Floyd back in 1999; today those memories come flooding back as water levels rise to heights not seen since Floyd.

    “We’re going to have to rebuild a town,” said Princeville’s mayor.

    The worst, however, is likely over, although that doesn’t necessarily mean the flooding will be done quickly. Many of the rivers in North Carolina are still cresting at record-breaking heights, and although the water levels should be dropping soon, major flooding is remains likely for many days. Fortunately, there is no rain forecast in the near future.

    Hurricane Matthew’s destructive wind and storms came and went, but the lasting effects linger on. Even those out of the path of the storm are experiencing heavy flooding. In Georgia, for example, many people were told that because they didn’t live in a flood plain, they didn’t need flood insurance.

    How wrong they were.

    Despite living in an area not known for flooding, countless people lost tens of thousands of dollars due to flood damage. The thing about disasters is, you never can tell when one will affect you. Those affected by floods in a non-flood plain certainly weren’t expecting it. They were even out of range of the hurricane.

    When preparing for disaster, it’s wise to prepare for every scenario. Sure, some areas can rule out certain disasters, such as a hurricane hitting Utah, but what about tornadoes? Yes, they are rare, but just recently Utah experienced three tornadoes in two days. Rare doesn’t mean impossible, and being prepared for all possibilities is essential for bouncing back after a crisis.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner North Carolina Floods

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