2012 – The QCC Process in USACE Risk-Informed Decisions

Richard R. Davidson, Nate Snorteland , Doug Boyer, John France

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has embarked upon a monumental journey in applying risk-informed decision making in the management of the safety of the 650 major dams for which it is responsible. This process has shifted safety criteria from fully deterministic to a probabilistic basis. There has also been a shift from de-centralized district-based decision-making to centralized management of resources through the new Risk Management Center (RMC) and the Senior Oversight Group (SOG), a group of senior engineers and managers from across the USACE organization. The risk process began about five years ago with a portfolio prioritisation using screening-level risk assessments of the entire dam inventory, culminating in Dam Safety Action Classifications (DSAC) for each of the dams. Based on this risk prioritisation, Issue Evaluation Studies (IES) were initiated for the highest risk DSAC I and II dams, with each study including detailed failure mode and risk analyses for each dam. Because the Corps was relatively new to dam safety risk analyses, and their dam design history was one of following codified manuals of practice, various risk tools were prepared to provide guidance when assessing the risk of potential static, seismic and flood failure modes, as well as life loss and economic consequences of dam failure. Although these tools provided useful guidance to a relative large population of inexperienced risk estimators, many of these early risk assessments were flawed; they provided unrealistically high estimates of failure probabilities and the tools did not help estimators understand or explain each failure mode. To assist the RMC in bringing more defensible risk estimates to the table and improve consistency of the evaluations, the Quality Control and Consistency (QCC) review process was initiated about two years ago. The QCC process provides high level review of IES activities, including detailed reviews of risk analyses, by a small group of experienced dam safety risk estimators. Not only has this brought risk estimates into a more reasonable range, it has provided valuable training for risk estimators, and important checks and balances on the risk-informed decision making process for moving dam safety upgrade projects forward. The justification for a number of very expensive projects has been challenged and, in some cases, re-prioritised, and other projects have risen to the prominence they deserve.

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