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Risk-Informed Decision Making (RIDM)

About Risk-Informed Decision Making (RIDM)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Division of Dam Safety and Inspections (D2SI) is responsible for approximately 1,100 high and significant hazard dams that form a significant part of the hydroelectric infrastructure for the United States. As the regulator of these facilities, D2SI is committed to providing the public and the environment with adequate protection from the risks which are inherent to collecting and storing large volumes of water for subsequent release.

D2SI has historically utilized a criteria-based decision-making framework in its dam safety program. The failure of Teton Dam in 1976 demonstrated a need for a more comprehensive approach to evaluating and addressing dam safety issues.

In 1979, a committee of Federal agency representatives commissioned by the President developed the Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety to promote prudent and reasonable dam safety practices among Federal agencies. The Federal Guidelines recognized that:

    “Risk-based analytical techniques and methodologies are a relatively recent addition to the tools available for assessing dam safety. With further refinement and improvement, risk-based analyses will probably gain wider acceptance in the engineering profession and realize potential as a major aid to decision-making in the interest of public safety.”

The Federal Guidelines cautioned:

    “However, even when fully developed, risk analyses cannot be used as a substitute for sound professional judgment of engineers, contractors, or review boards.”

D2SI has followed the development of risk analysis techniques and methodologies for use in dam safety decision-making. In 2002 D2SI added Potential Failure Mode Analysis (PFMA) as a tool to its dam safety program. PFMAs are the initial step in a risk analysis. The introduction of PFMAs to D2SI’s dam safety program allowed qualitative assessment of failure modes that were not amenable to numerical analysis or criteria and allowed surveillance and monitoring programs and emergency action plans to be focused on specific failure modes.

After ten years of experience with PFMA D2SI believes that the practice of risk analysis in dam safety has been refined and improved and now has the potential to be a major aid to decision-making in the interest of public safety.

The Commission’s 2009-2014 Strategic Plan PDF has a stated objective to minimize risk to the public. One strategy to achieve this goal has been identified as incorporating risk-informed decision-making (RIDM) into the Commission’s dam safety program administered by the Office of Energy Projects – Division of Dam Safety and Inspections (D2SI).

To implement the stated objectives in the Strategic Plan draft chapters of the Engineering Guidelines for Risk Informed Decision Making (RIDM) have been posted. You are encouraged to review these draft guidelines and provide any comments you may have.

A key component of the RIDM development program will be training. Although risk-informed decision-making has been used by some dam safety professionals for many years (notably Reclamation), in general the dam safety community within the United States is relatively uninformed on the actual process of performing a comprehensive risk assessment and there is no U.S. precedent for risk-informed decision-making in dam safety regulatory program the size of the FERC’s. Therefore, before FERC can fully implement RIDM into its dam safety program it will be necessary to develop and provide training to FERC staff, licensees and consultants on both the methodologies and procedures used to perform a risk analysis as well as the policies D2SI will use to make decisions on the safety of individual dams.

Risk-Informed Decision Making Level 1 and Level 2 Workshops have been convened. Presentations from these workshops can be found on our main Risk-Informed Decision Making (RIDM) page. Shortly we will begin the next phase of our training using the published draft guidelines as training aides. As the training workshops are developed the schedule for holding the workshops will posted on our website with instructions on registration.


Updated: March 14, 2014