Potential Failure Mode Analysis as a Dam Safety Tool Part I: Introduction to PFMA: Download

Failure mode evaluation or what now is more commonly referred to as potential failure mode analysis (PFMA) for dam safety has become routine practice for many in the profession. The process became more formally organized by the US Bureau of Reclamation in the early to mid 1990’s and gained wider industry exposure in the early 2000’s through the publication of FERC’s Engineering Guidelines, Chapter 14 – Dam Safety Performance Monitoring Program. The PFMA process systematically identifies, describes, and evaluates ways a dam and its appurtenances could fail under all postulated loading conditions. However, a PFMA is much more than an exercise to evaluate and document potential failure modes for a dam. At its fullest extent, a PFMA is a valuable tool which can be used to guide and inform dam safety personnel on where to focus dam safety observations and inspections, where to strategically perform an investigation or install instruments to monitor dam performance, and can be used as a first step in a risk analysis. The process and results of the PFMA can also help to identify and prioritize O&M deficiencies, identify the need for improved operational processes, and pinpoint training needs. PFMAs can benefit dam owners and regulators by providing a better understanding and appreciation of potential structural and operational weaknesses and operating procedures. Finally, they may also be used to better inform downstream emergency management personnel of the hazards posed by the dam, while also providing a better understanding of effective evacuation protocols.

This training webinar is being taught in two parts:

Part I – Introduction to PFMA is an introductory “how to” session for folks who are not familiar with PFMAs or who have never done a PFMA. It will cover the basics of what a PFMA is, how it is typically structured, what information is required, who should be present, how to ‘brainstorm’ and evaluate PFMs, and what information from the PFMA session should be captured and documented in a report. Examples will be provided, both good and not so good, of potential failure mode sessions and reports.

Part II – Application of PFMA in Dam Safety focuses on what to do with the results of a PFMA. Examples are provided of how the results of a PFMA can be integrated into everyday dam safety processes and can be used to inform and improve dam safety activities and decision-making.

Douglas D. Boyer, P.E., CEG

Chief, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Doug is a civil engineer and engineering geologist with 33 years of experience in dam and levee safety.  He currently serves as the Chief, Risk-Informed Decision Making Branch for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Prior to re-joining FERC in 2016 he was the Western Division Chief for the US Army Corps of Engineers Risk Management Center in Denver, Colorado.  Other previous employment positions include:  Supervisor, Dam Safety Engineering with FERC in Portland, Oregon; Principal Designer and Engineering Geology Group Manager with the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver, Colorado; and Chief, Dam Safety Branch, Colorado Division of Water Resources in Denver, Colorado. He also has nearly 15 years of consulting experience.  Doug has a B.S. in Geological Sciences and a M.S. in Civil Engineering.  He is a former Board of Director and Vice President of the U.S. Society on Dams.  He is a licensed Professional Engineer, Professional Geologist, and Certified Engineering Geologist.  He has conducted, participated or reviewed hundreds of Potential Failure Mode Analyses (PFMA); has authored numerous presentations on the subject; and has conducted two ASDSO webinars on the PFMA process in 2014.


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