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Infrastructures 2018, 3(4), 49;

Risk and Resilience at the Oroville Dam

School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85281, USA
Department of Operations Research, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA 93943, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 15 August 2018 / Revised: 29 October 2018 / Accepted: 31 October 2018 / Published: 6 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Resilient Infrastructure Systems)
PDF [1177 KB, uploaded 6 November 2018]


Existing analyses of the February 2017 Oroville Dam Crisis identify maintenance failures and engineering shortcomings as the root cause of a nearly catastrophic failure of the tallest dam in the United States. However, the focus on technical shortcomings largely overlooks the role of adaptive decision-making that eventually averted the crisis. Understanding the decisions that both created the circumstances leading up to the crisis and saved the dam from collapse requires that risk analysis be complemented by a resilience perspective. This paper presents a case study on the Oroville Dam Crisis to develop a timeline of failures and successes in the resilience processes of sensing, anticipation, adapting, and learning throughout the history of the dam. Three factors that drove poor operational and engineering decisions include: (1) misalignment of technical nomenclature and design requirements for the ungated spillway, (2) overconfidence in original engineering designs, and (3) conflicting pressure from diverse stakeholders. These factors contributed to unrealistic perceptions of dam capabilities and promoted decisions to forgo maintenance and design efforts that may have mitigated the danger. View Full-Text
Keywords: resilience; critical infrastructure; risk; complex systems; decision-making; safety resilience; critical infrastructure; risk; complex systems; decision-making; safety

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Hollins, L.X.; Eisenberg, D.A.; Seager, T.P. Risk and Resilience at the Oroville Dam. Infrastructures 2018, 3, 49.

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