Failure to plan

Local and state leaders should have foreseen the Oroville Dam spillway situation, even as a worst case scenario

Last week, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea unveiled a new interactive evacuation map for the areas south of Oroville Dam. It’s great—user-friendly and based on a nuanced plan for the region. But let’s be real here: It’s not “new” in the sense that it’s replacing something old; it’s “new” as in someone just created it, a month after a near catastrophic failure of the emergency spillway and in the midst of an evacuation warning for the area.

When it came to being prepared for this particular scenario, local authorities dropped the ball. Honea and Cindi Dunsmoor, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, each told the CN&R as much this week (see “Lessons learned,” page 9). Honea acknowledged the only evacuation plan in place before the February scare was in the case of the dam itself failing. “The honest truth is, we had never anticipated an uncontrolled spill over the emergency spillway,” Dunsmoor told us.

Our question is this: Why the hell not? In what common-sense situation does one create an emergency measure and then not consider the implications of its deployment?

The Department of Water Resources, “owner” of the dam, should have worked out contingencies in all possible scenarios. When you’re responsible for such a huge piece of infrastructure whose failure would endanger the lives of thousands of people, proper emergency procedures should be outlined and updated regularly.

Locally, we should have had those things in place, too. Not after the fact. Our leaders failed us in not being prepared for this disaster. At least now we have a plan. Let’s truly use this as a learning experience and ensure we’re prepared for other possible threats as well.