New Bill Would Toughen Calif. Dam Inspections

DWR Photo: Lake Oroville on Jan. 19, 2018 with lake levels at 707 feet.

A year after the spillway collapse at the Oroville Dam, leading to evacuations of almost 200,000 residents and a beat-the-clock patching job to avoid a break in the tallest dam in the United States, new legislation to strengthen inspections of dams awaits approval of California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill would require annual inspections for high hazard dams, raise inspection standards and require consultation with independent experts every 10 years, according to ABC News.

As reported by Risk Management Magazine, problems at the Oroville Dam began when the dam’s main sluice was damaged after a winter season of record rain and snowfall, following five years of drought. Torrential rainfall caused water levels to rise so quickly that large amounts needed to be released to prevent the dam from rupturing and sending a wall of water to the communities below.

A recent report of the root-cause of the spillway failure by the Independent Forensic Team (IFC), which includes members of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and the United States Society of Dams, notes that:

There was no single root cause of the Oroville Dam spillway incident, nor was there a simple chain of events that led to the failure of the service spillway chute slab, the subsequent overtopping of the emergency spillway crest structure, and the necessity of the evacuation order. Rather, the incident was caused by a complex interaction of relatively common physical, human, organizational, and industry factors, starting with the design of the project and continuing until the incident. The physical factors can be placed into two general categories:

  • Inherent vulnerabilities in the spillway designs and as-constructed conditions, and subsequent chute slab deterioration

  • Poor spillway foundation conditions in some locations

The IFC report concludes that all dam owners in the state need to “reassess current procedures” in light of its findings.

According to the IFC:

“The fact that this incident happened to the owner of the tallest dam in the United States, under regulation of a federal agency, with repeated evaluation by reputable outside consultants, in a state with the leading dam safety regulatory program, is a wake-up call for everyone involved in dam safety. Challenging current assumptions on what constitutes ‘best practice’ in our industry is overdue.”

Initial response to the spillway failure included erosion mitigation for both spillways during the incident, sediment removal and installation of temporary transmission lines at a cost of $160 million, According to the DWR. Phase-two includes removal of the original 730 feet of the upper chute, replacing it with structural concrete.

Thousands of U.S. Bridges Deemed Deficient

More than 54,000 bridges along the Interstate Highway System in the United States were rated as “structurally deficient,” according to new analysis conducted by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA). This was just one of many of the concerning statistics detailed by ARTBA in its 2018 Deficient Bridge Report on Jan. 29.

Other critical details include:

  • The average age of a structurally deficient bridge is 67 years, compared to 40 years for non-deficient bridges.
  • Repair needs are identified among one in three U.S. bridges (226,837 total) and one in three bridges (17,726) along the Interstate Highway System (IHS).
  • There is the equivalent of one “structurally deficient” bridge for every 27 miles of the 48,000-mile IHS, which carries 75% of the nation’s heavy truck traffic.

The ARTBA report echoes the results of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for 2017, wherein the U.S. received a performance of D+ based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement. As reported by Risk Management magazine in 2017, the U.S. spends only 2.5% of its gross domestic product on infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that, over the next 10 years, the gap between planned investments in infrastructure and investment needs could exceed $2.1 trillion, with the largest investment gap in the transportation sector, followed by schools, electric utilities and water/wastewater systems.

With Americans crossing these deficient bridges 174 million times daily, there is reason for concern among private citizens and companies. At the current pace of repair or replacement, it would take 37 years to remedy all of them, said Alison Premo Black, PhD, ARTBA chief economist, who conducted ARTBA’s analysis.

“An infrastructure package aimed at modernizing the Interstate System would have both short- and long-term positive effects on the U.S. economy,” she said, noting that traffic bottlenecks cost the trucking industry more than $60 billion per year in lost productivity and fuel.

The report was issued just ahead of President Trump’s first State of the Union address on Jan. 30, in which he identified a struggling infrastructure and requested legislation aimed at capital improvements:

Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need. Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment—to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.

Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process—getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.

National Public Radio reported that the White House initially called for a $1 trillion rebuilding plan but raised the stakes during the address, and specifically called out certain phrasing.

“That word ‘generates’ is important,” wrote NPR contributors in an analysis of the speech, “because this would not mean the U.S. government is spending $1 trillion.” President Trump has allocated $200 billion in federal spending on infrastructure. “The bulk of the $200 billion would go toward leveraging state and local money and private investment,” NPR’s David Schaper reported.

62% of Impacted Companies Lacked Hurricane Prep in 2017

A majority of senior executives of large U.S. companies with operations in Texas, Florida or Puerto Rico admit to being unprepared for last year’s hurricanes that devastated their communities, according to a survey by FM Global. While 64% of respondents said the hurricanes had an adverse impact on their operations, a full 62% said they were not fully prepared.

“These candid admissions drive home a fundamental truth about catastrophe,” Louis Gritzo, vice president and manager of research at FM Global said in a statement. “People routinely fail to understand or acknowledge the magnitude of risk until they’ve experienced a fateful event.”

One reason for a lack of natural-hazard preparation is imprecise terminology, he said. Being located in a “100-year flood” zone, for example, “does not mean you have 99 years to plan—but that there is a 1% chance of such a flood every year.” Another reason for insufficient preparation is over-reliance on insurance, which cannot restore the market share, brand equity and shareholder value lost to competitors.

The study found that as a result of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria:

  • 57% of all respondents said they will put in place or enhance their business continuity or disaster recovery plans.
  • 40% plan to invest more in risk management, property loss prevention, and/or reassess their supply chain risk management strategy.
  • 25% will reassess their insurance coverages or their insurers.

FM Global commissioned market research firm ORC International to survey 101 senior financial executives at Fortune 1000-size organizations by phone in October through November 2017.

Brand perception: 2017 Hurricane Lessons Learned

The 2017 hurricane season has proven to be particularly trying for many businesses, as they worked around maintaining operations during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. As a result, many organizations found themselves questioning how to properly adjust policies and practices to mitigate risk and also protect their brand image.

Companies with outbound contact operations have been most susceptible to brand exposure, as they have had to tread carefully to remain efficient while not coming across as uncompassionate to those whose lives have been upended by hurricanes.

So how can companies, especially those with outbound components, reduce the risk to their brand reputation while remaining efficient during disasters? We advise companies to take a compassionate approach to brand and business management.

Look at your risk management strategies
Is your organization proactive or reactive when it comes to brand risk? If recent stories are any indication, it appears that many organizations are still working within a reactive environment, which can cripple brand reputation.

This is especially true for businesses with outbound contact strategies, as a slight miscommunication can cause major brand risks. For example, if your organization is making sales calls when consumers are enduring a hurricane and focused on surviving the disaster, you’re likely to face an unwelcome response. The same rules can be applied following a disastrous event as well. Imagine reaching out to a consumer to inform them that their mortgage payment is late when their house is no longer habitable. In each of these examples, a desire to maintain a “business as usual” approach can cause your consumer to take to the social airways to voice their concerns about your brand. Instead, corporations should focus on proactive outreach during disasters. Key to this process is developing a risk strategy built around both natural and manmade events.

Develop your disaster strategy
To mitigate brand risk, work to develop a strategy that takes a compassionate approach to business operations and your interactions with consumers affected by the disaster. This strategy should look at both outreach efforts as well as internal employee education to ensure that all relevant parties know their role in the strategy. Not only does this help protect your brand integrity and minimize your exposure to risk, but also helps improve customer relations.

I have seen contact centers email or text consumers ahead of a forecasted disaster to ensure that they are properly prepared for the event. I have also seen corporations alter their post-disaster outreach strategies to give consumers proper time to heal and rebuild.

When developing this approach, it is important to remember that not all disasters are forseen, so it is imperative to have distinct approaches to deal with both forecasted (hurricanes) and sporadic disasters (mass shootings, tornadoes), which provide limited-to-no lead time.

The media: your friend or your enemy
With any disaster comes a flood of media attention. Because missteps can cause a brand nightmare, I advise companies with outbound operations to have a story, but not become part of the story. Businesses should build a compassionate brand story that highlights their dedication to corporate social responsibility during disasters.

Coca-Cola, for example, used their brand platform to reinforce their dedication to consumer needs. During Harvey, Coke encouraged local aid workers to break into their Beaumont, Texas plant to pillage for drinking water and other supplies to support the community, which had been ravished by the storm. Not only did Coke take a proactive approach in supporting the community, it also showed that the town’s well-being was far more important than lost revenues.

Compare the positive impact of Coca-Cola’s example to the media scrutiny that Joel Osteen faced during Harvey. Word of his church being temporarily closed to those made homeless quickly surfaced across numerous media channels, placing him and his church on the defensive. Although his church did open soon after this news broke, his compassionate approach remained overshadowed by his negative press.

Time to think beyond revenues
Protecting your brand during disastrous times means thinking beyond revenues and, instead, approaching your prospects/customers as human beings, with an understanding of what they may be going through.

I encourage you to look at your current operating policies and ask if you are taking the steps to become a compassionate brand? If not, it may be time to look at changes that can be made to bring compassion to your operations.