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When a dam fails, huge quantities of water rush downstream with great destructive force. Dam failure or levee breeches can occur with little warning, sometimes within hours of the first signs of breeching. In other cases, failures and breeches can take much longer to occur, from days to weeks, as a result of debris jams, the accumulation of melting snow or other events. There are nearly 80,000 dams in the United States, and about one third of these pose a "high" or "significant" hazard to life and property if failure occurs. But if you are informed and prepared for what to do in the event of a dam failure, you will greatly reduce the risk to you and your family.



  • Know your risk. Do you live downstream from a dam? Is the dam a high-hazard or significant-hazard potential dam? To find out, contact your state or county emergency management agency or visit the National Inventory of Dams (NID) or the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO).

  • Find out who owns the dam and who regulates the dam. This information also should be available from your state or county emergency management agency, NID or ASDSO.

  • Find out if a current Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is in place for the dam. An EAP is a document that identifies potential emergency conditions at a dam and specifies preplanned actions to be followed to reduce property damage and loss of life.

  • If you need to evacuate, know your evacuation route and practice using it to get out of harm's way.

  • Get an emergency supply kit that includes enough provisions for you and your family to live on for a minimum of three days. Be sure to include plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors in your emergency kit.

  • Make an emergency plan for you and your family.

Read more about preparing for flood emergencies.