Exceptions That Prove the Rule
California’s prolonged dry spell was ended with record-breaking rainfall last month. It seems as though there’s either not enough or way too much when it comes to water. The concept of “averages” seems to mean little in our environment. Knowing this cycle of drought and flooding, we need to consider readiness for rapid changes that blow in on the prevailing winds.
Events related to the recent deluge demonstrate important lessons relating to risk management and preparedness. As Oroville Dam reached record capacity, water management officials discovered significant damage to the dam’s primary overflow spillway and that lowering the lake level would mean using the emergency spillway that could lead to a poorly-controlled water release. Hundreds of thousands of downstream residents had to be evacuated in a matter of hours along limited escape routes. Thankfully, there were few serious problems encountered and the many people caught in the traffic jams did not become trapped in life-threatening situations. But it was an example demonstrating the need to prepare for exceptional changes.
Coyote Creek in Santa Clara County was also subjected to record flooding from the February storms. Scarred hillsides following last year’s wildfires added to the problem. Runoff from the downpour, floods overwhelming sewer systems, infiltration to stored fertilizers and other chemical substances turned the waters inundating the area into a toxic brew that multiplied the danger and damage done. The contamination will make the clean up more time consuming and costly. Those who were affected by the pollution will look for the sources of the pollutants and seek reimbursement. Managing risks for potential pollutants under typical conditions may not be sufficient to address extraordinary events. When public safety is at stake, it’s vital to anticipate the answers to the question, “what’s the worst that can happen?”
It’s important to consider not just the purpose of infrastructure to perform what it was designed to do; but also what consequences could result when it fails to perform as expected, or when conditions exceed its design. The exceptional stresses we have just experienced and their potential for catastrophic results do illustrate the value of evaluating the risks.
Keenan can assist public agencies with risk management and loss prevention resources. For more information, please contact your local Keenan representative.
About Eric Preston
Eric Preston is Vice President, Loss Control Services at Keenan. He leads a statewide team of specialists assisting clients with services to reduce hazards, and improve property & casualty loss experience.