2023 – The Challenges in Having Assurance that Critical Mechanical and Electrical Installations at Dams Work as Intended

Joe Matthews, Leigh Martin, Sergio Cabrera

Mechanical and electrical (M&E) assets provide access to the water held by dams and can also play critical dam safety functions. Many dams have electrical and mechanical assets designed to perform important functions when needed, but that are rarely required for their intended operating mode. It is often difficult to test these items due to the risk of something going wrong during the test or the impacts on daily operations. Further, while there is some guidance published by the UK body Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA), there is limited guidance available to the industry regarding recommended testing extent and frequency; as such, there is a common current practice in the industry where robust M&E testing is not necessarily performed. How do we know these assets will work as intended?

It is important to understand the vulnerabilities that may be inherent in mechanical and electrical installations at dams. These vulnerabilities can be reduced by having a process in place to allow inspection and testing of critical assets to ensure they work as intended and provide an opportunity to identify flaws and rectify them in a non-critical setting.
Dam owners and engineers often understand the need to have assurance that these assets will work as designed and have a desire to carry out testing, but in practice, there can be difficulty overcoming challenges and risks associated with the testing – and as such, testing is significantly curtailed or not completed.

Consultation with key stakeholders is essential, to allow adequate planning and preparation and to identify risks and opportunities associated with the inspection and testing. It is important for all stakeholders to understand the value of inspection and testing, to gain support to devote the necessary resources and tolerate what may be significant interruptions to service or normal operations.

This paper will set out a process to consider when planning an inspection and testing program. It will examine steps to overcome these challenges discussing methodologies employed to assess the requirement for inspection and testing, how testing risks can be assessed, and the planning and consultation involved. Further, considerations for new or upgraded installations will be shared based on lessons learned from recent M&E testing.

Case studies of recent testing carried out at two Extreme Consequence Category dams as part of Comprehensive Inspections will be examined including what worked well and lessons to improve future tests.

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