Program Activities

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Dam Safety Program uses risk to inform how it manages the approximately 740 dams it operates and maintains, with life safety the highest priority. This approach is a best practice adopted to evaluate, prioritize and justify dam safety decisions.  Using risk information allows USACE to repair its dams in the most effective manner within a constrained budget.

There has been tremendous progress in the USACE Dam Safety Program over the past several years. The program has transitioned from testing new organizational policies, procedures, and organizational elements to operational and production mode, which includes major repair/rehabilitation. Many great ideas for different program elements have been put in place to include new comprehensive dam safety policy that fully embraces USACE’s risk-informed approach, as well as the establishment of production centers and an assortment of new management tools.

Why does USACE have a Dam Safety Program?  As a self-regulated dam owner, USACE strives to deliver all the great benefits to our society that the dams were built for, but also reduce flood risk to the downstream public to the best of our abilities.  We also believe communication is important with everyone potentially affected by a dam so they can know and understand their risk.  Local emergency management agencies and state dam safety officials are great sources of information about what to do in the event of an emergency, such as warning systems, evacuation plans, and emergency shelters.   FEMA’s “Living with Dams” is an excellent information source.


Program Information

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students attending a dam safety course receive a briefingThe objectives of USACE dam inspections are to:

  • Ensure the dam system will perform as expected.
  • Identify deficiencies or areas that need monitoring or immediate repair.
  • Continuously assess the integrity of the dam in order to identify any changes over time. 
  • Collect information in order to make informed decisions about future actions.
  • Determine if the dam is being properly operated and maintained.
  • Determine if the local sponsor is in compliance with the project partnership agreement, if applicable. 

USACE conducts two types of dam inspections.  The first one is the Annual Inspection, which is performed on an annual basis to ensure the dam is being properly operated and maintained.  The Periodic Inspection is the next level of inspection and is conducted by a multidisciplinary team led by a professional engineer.  It includes a more detailed, comprehensive evaluation of the condition of the dam and will be conducted every five years.  Components of the Periodic Inspection include evaluating annual inspection items; verifying proper operation and maintenance; evaluating operational adequacy, structural stability, and safety of the system; and comparing current design and construction criteria with those in place when the dam was built. 

In 2005, the USACE started Screening for Portfolio Risk Analysis (SPRA).  This analysis screened every one of the approximately 694 dams in the USACE inventory based on available information, to expeditiously identify and classify the highest risk dams requiring urgent and compelling action (Dam Safety Action Classification Classes I and II Dams).  This screening has yielded a clear but basic understanding of where the greatest risks and priorities are located.

Completing SPRA has allowed USACE to develop a Portfolio Investment Plan for more than 300 dams within the portfolio determined to be “actionable,” or posing moderate to extremely high risks.

The Dam Safety Action Classification System (DSAC) is intended to provide consistent and systematic guidelines for appropriate actions to address the dam safety issues and deficiencies of USACE dams.  USACE dams are placed into a DSAC class based on their individual dam safety risk considered as a combination of probability of failure and potential life safety, economic, environmental, or other consequences.  The DSAC table presents different levels and urgencies of actions that are commensurate with the different classes of the safety status of USACE dams.  These actions range from immediate recognition of an urgent and compelling situation requiring extraordinary and immediate action for unsafe dams through normal operations and dam safety activities for safe dams.


DSAC Class I (Very High Urgency) – Dams where progression toward failure is confirmed to be taking place under normal operations and the dam is almost certain to fail under normal operations within a time frame from immediately to within a few years without intervention; or, the combination of life or economic consequences with probability of failure is extremely high. 

DSAC Class II (High Urgency) – Dams where failure could begin during normal operations or be initiated as the consequence of an event.  The likelihood of failure from one of these occurrences, prior to remediation, is too high to assure public safety; or, the combination of life or economic consequences with probability of failure is very high.

DSAC Class III (Moderate Urgency) – Dams that have issues where the dam is significantly inadequate or the combination of life, economic, or environmental consequences with probability of failure is moderate to high.

DSAC Class IV (Low Urgency) – Dams are inadequate with low risk such that the combination of life, economic, or environmental consequences with a probability of failure is low and the dam may not meet all essential USACE engineering guidelines.

DSAC Class V (Normal) – Dams considered adequately safe, meeting all essential agency guidelines and the residual risk is considered tolerable. 

Action Classification Table

USACE has more than 220 dams classified as actionable in the Dam Safety Investment Portfolio (DSIP).  These dams have been evaluated and determined to present unacceptable societal risk for loss of life and property.  Because we operate in a constrained budget environment, we must prioritize the highest risk projects and work to reduce the risk in an efficient and effective manner.  By moving to a more centralized method of delivery, USACE is able to  effectively build and sustain technical competencies necessary to execute this large and complex portfolio of repairs. This method of delivery contributes to the enhancement of technical competencies, sharing of lessons learned, consistency in design and ultimately the development of more effective dam safety solutions.

Dam Safety Modification Mandatory Center of Expertise (DSMMCX)

The DSMMCX is a national center of expertise that provides technical advice, oversight, review and production capability for the planning, design and construction of all aspects of dam safety modification projects across USACE. The DSMMCX facilitates coordination among the DSPCs to improve knowledge and resource sharing and promote efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of dam safety modifications. The DSMMCX is co-located with the LRD Dam Safety Production Center in Huntington, WV.  The DSMMCX conducts its work under the authority of ER 10-1-51, Roles Responsibilities Dam Safety Modification Mandatory Center of Expertise, dated 28 September 2012.

Regional Dam Safety Production Centers (DSPC)

The DSPCs are responsible for the overall technical development of the Regions’ dam safety modification projects.  Lead Engineers for dam safety modification projects are assigned to the DSPC or designated by the DSPC.  The DSPCs  improve technical competencies, consistency and application of lessons learned associated with dam safety modifications.  The DSPCs assist with Agency Technical Review for dam safety modifications. Consolidation of expertise for dam safety modifications into regional or inter-regional production centers  provides the workload balance required to sustain and enhance Dam Safety expertise across USACE.  The Dam Safety Production Center Management Group is made up of the DSMMCX and the Regional Dam Safety Production Centers.


Contact Information

Additional questions related to the Dam Safety Production Centers and Mandatory Center of Expertise may be emailed to the following address:

The individual Dam Safety Production Centers may may be emailed at the following addresses:


USACE underwent an Independent External Peer Review (IEPR) of its Dam Safety Program's policies, procedures, and performance to assess how well it is implementing the Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety and executing its dam safety mission.  To view the report, click here.

The IEPR provided 34 comments and associated recommendations.  Response actions are prioritized per the ranking provided by the review panel and are being implemented as funding permits.  Many actions will be phased, such as updating guidance first, then revising associated procedures, followed by training to aid implementation.  USACE is committed to continuing good stewardship of its dams, which provide enormous benefits to our society via flood risk management, hydropower, water supply, environmental stewardship, recreation, and supplemental flows to aid river navigation.

National inventory of Dams graphicThe National Inventory of Dams (NID) contains information on approximately 90,000 dams throughout the U.S. that are more than 25 feet high, hold more than 50 acre-feet of water, or are considered a significant hazard if they fail.  The NID is maintained and published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with information from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and 16 Federal agencies. 

modeling, mapping and consequence center graphicUSACE has appointed Dam Safety Officers and Dam Safety Program Managers at all levels of the organization. District staff executes the program with corporately centralized prioritization, management and oversight by the senior officers at division and HQUSACE levels. USACE laboratories and specialized field operating agencies provide technical support.

A key support function is provided by the Risk Management Center (RMC). The RMC provides expertise in risk assessment methodologies and tools, which greatly assists in dam safety program management and execution at all levels. Click here for more information on the RMC. The Risk Managment Center works under the authority of Engineering Regulation,  ER 10-1-55, Roles and Responsibilities Risk Management Center.

The Modeling, Mapping, and Consequence Center (MMC) provides additional key support functions through efficient, consistent, and state-of-the-practice production, which characterizes the nature and consequences of potentially impaired dam performance.  The MMC works under the authority of Engineering Regulation, ER 10-1-54, Roles and Responsibilities Modeling, Mapping, and Consequences Production Center

Risk comprises the following three elements:  the likelihood that natural events will take place, the performance of the infrastructure during these events, and the consequences of poor performance or failure.  Risk allows USACE to look at the project in terms of its purposes; ecosystems; constrained budgets; the uncertainty of future events and current knowledge; past design decisions; and combinations of these factors and make sense of it all.

USACE takes a multi-faceted approach to managing risk of the dams it operates and maintains.  Risk-informed decisions integrate traditional engineering analyses with estimations of risk through experience-based engineering judgment.  Dam safety risk-informed program is managed with three main components: risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication.

Risk Assessment
A risk assessment is a systematic approach to quantify and describe the hazard, likelihood of something going wrong, and consequences if something goes wrong.  It is used to define safety issues, evaluate remediation options, and measure effectiveness of repairs.  It enhances decision-making for setting short and long-term priorities for studies, investigations, and repairs.  Risk assessments are performed on a continuous basis because risk can change over time.

A national screening-level risk assessment process began in 2005 in which USACE categorized dams among five Dam Safety Action Classifications (DSAC) based on relative risks. More detailed Periodic Assessments are being conducted on the USACE inventory of dams as well as rigorous risk analyses on higher risk dams and structures  This allows USACE to identify dam safety issues and prioritize actions and funding according to those risks.

Risk Management
Risk management is the process of problem finding and initiating action to identify, evaluate, select, implement, monitor and modify actions taken to alter levels of risk, as compared to taking no action.  The purpose of risk management is to choose and prioritize work required to reduce risk.

USACE uses routine and non-routine activities to make risk-informed management decisions. 

Routine: Routine activities include monitoring of instrumentation, inspections and assessments.  Instrumentation monitors critical components of the dam.  Engineers regularly inspect projects for structural and operational integrity and identify potential problems and issues.

Non-Routine: An incident or special event at a dam or a safety concern during routine activities triggers non-routine activities.  This may include an issue evaluation study to determine the extent of the dam safety issue.  Concurrently, interim risk reduction measures (IRRM) to lower risk are used until permanent measures can be put in place and may include lowering reservoir pools, stockpiling emergency material, updating emergency action plans and inundation maps, and increasing instrumentation and monitoring.  If permanent action is needed, a modification study determines options and aids prioritization.

Dam Safety Modifications: Many dam safety issues can be addressed through normal maintenance. Some, however, require extensive and expensive modifications.  A risk-informed alternative analysis determines the most cost-effective measures to reduce the project risk as low as practicable.  Modifications can take several years and include such actions as foundation cutoff walls, anchoring dams, and placing seepage berms.

Risk Communication
Risk communication is the open, two-way exchange of information and opinion about hazards and risks leading to a better understanding of the risks and better risk management decisions.  USACE provides risk information on a project basis to affected stakeholders and the public.  An informed and engaged public that better understands risk can contribute to the evaluation of risk reduction options, and take appropriate action for their safety.