Carnegie Mellon University
April 18, 2013

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon Civil and Environmental Engineers Work To Develop Tools for Dam Safety Risk Assessments

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

PITTSBURGH—A team of Carnegie Mellon University civil and environmental engineering faculty and students is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help assess the risk of dam failures nationwide. The recently released 2013 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card collectively gave the 84,000 U.S. dams a D grade.

"We are working to develop tools that will give engineers greater integration of the different sources of information they use to determine this risk," said Burcu Akinci, a professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at Carnegie Mellon.

Akinci along with James H. Garrett, Jr., the Thomas Lord Professor and dean of CMU's College of Engineering are leading a research team that includes several professors who also are working on research in the IBM Smarter Infrastructure Lab - part of the Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator - that supports the computational modeling and visualization aspects of this project. They include CEE Assistant Professor Mario Berges and CEE Assistant Research Professor Semiha Ergan.

"This research is extremely important as we work to maintain and monitor an aging infrastructure and as we work to test the important tools CMU researchers are developing for us," said Christopher J. Kelly, a civil engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The Corps owns 694 dams nationwide, over half of which have exceeded their 50-year service life."

Kelly said he hoped the research would help improve efficiency and cost. "Ultimately, we would like to have a virtual model that all our engineers can access and update over time," Kelly said.

"It's all about risk and we are looking to develop tools that will help assess how a dam behaves and identify any anomalies that may indicate future problems," Berges said. "The models and data analysis techniques we are developing will ultimately allow the Army Corps of Engineers to monitor multiple dams at once."

Ergan reports that this is the first time that this advanced systems infrastructure research has been applied to a dam. "We are working in developing integrated data models that enable advanced data visualization and analytics," Ergan said.

The CMU team is scheduled to present a series of proof of concept models later this summer to officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.