Risk and resilience at the Oroville Dam

Lucien X. Hollins, Daniel A. Eisenberg, Thomas P. Seager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Existing analyses of the February 2017 Oroville Dam Crisis identify maintenance failures and engineering shortcomings as the root cause of a nearly catastrophic failure of the tallest dam in the United States. However, the focus on technical shortcomings largely overlooks the role of adaptive decision-making that eventually averted the crisis. Understanding the decisions that both created the circumstances leading up to the crisis and saved the dam from collapse requires that risk analysis be complemented by a resilience perspective. This paper presents a case study on the Oroville Dam Crisis to develop a timeline of failures and successes in the resilience processes of sensing, anticipation, adapting, and learning throughout the history of the dam. Three factors that drove poor operational and engineering decisions include: (1) misalignment of technical nomenclature and design requirements for the ungated spillway, (2) overconfidence in original engineering designs, and (3) conflicting pressure from diverse stakeholders. These factors contributed to unrealistic perceptions of dam capabilities and promoted decisions to forgo maintenance and design efforts that may have mitigated the danger.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number49
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018


  • Complex systems
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Decision-making
  • Resilience
  • Risk
  • Safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • General Materials Science
  • Building and Construction
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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