2022 – Dam Safety Emergency Planning: A Digital Mobile Application

Arezoo Farhadi, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Hakin – Aurecon Australasia

In early 2022 unprecedented floods devastated the east coast of Queensland and NSW. High-intensity rainfalls resulted in rapid rises in reservoir storage levels and consequently several Dam Safety Emergency Plans (DSEPs) were activated.

During an emergency, human behaviour can change dramatically. Fatigue or stress can resolve in uncertainty, personnel can be overwhelmed and not have a clear focus causing inaction or ineffective action. This can carry a heavy price in delayed warnings and emergency personnel mobilisation and poor communication. This, combined with outdated/inaccurate information, can lead to a less than optimal emergency response which can then potentially eventuate in increased loss of life.

Key components of a successful dam safety emergency response are:
– The minimisation of human error
– Easy access to accurate and up-to-date information when needed
– Simplified tools for effective engineering assessments to enable informed decisions to be made
– A clear and unambiguous set of communications and hierarchical based escalation process.

Ensuring the key respondents in a dam safety emergency have an up-to-date and easy to follow DESP when its distribution relies on hard copy formats is always going to be time consuming and challenging in practise.

This paper discusses the application of a digital DSEP deployed on smart phone devices. Such an approach allows not only easy and frequent updates to the key information in the DSEP to ensure it represents a “single source of truth” but a more convenient way of accessing the information(almost 80% of the Australian population possess a smart phone and probably 100% of DSEP responders will have a company issued smartphone). Furthermore, GIS location applications and Apple’s new iPhone 14 feature (for example) allows for transmission of emergency messages via satellite when traditional cellular and Wi-Fi service is unavailable. Some smart phones can now detect a severe car crash, then automatically call 000 and notify the persons’ emergency contacts. Such features can work alongside and be incorporated in the DSEP to not only provide for improved “visibility” and communication across the response team but also improved individual safety and responsiveness.

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