The Dam Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan Wasn’t Fully Tested

By Mike Van Stone

Surely 12,000 cubic feet of water per second would not be a problem for an emergency spillway rated for 350,000.1  Residents of Oroville, 74 miles north of Sacramento, would disagree.  Nearly 200,000 were evacuated as a large hole developed in an emergency spillway.1  The emergency spillway had not been tested since the dam was completed in 1968 and could have resulted in significant flooding.2

In every organization, needs outpace resources.  Planning and implementation of business continuity and disaster recovery strategies can be neglected.  The Oroville spillway is the latest in a series of public events highlighting the need to reconsider the resource allocation.  Fortunately, as of the time of this article the situation is contained.  However, incidents can be a reminder to evaluate the adequacy of business continuity preparation and testing.


Oroville Dam emergency spillway on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, the day officials warned that the spillway was in danger of failing. More than 180,000 people downstream were told to evacuate. (Gonzalo “PeeWee” Curiel/For the Chico Enterprise-Record)

Organizations can leverage the numerous governmental and non-governmental disaster recovery and business continuity standards, frameworks, and reference materials.  Examples include: ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management, Continuity Guidance Circular 2 (CGC 2),, NIST 800-34 Contingency Planning Guide for Federal Information Systems, and FEMA’s emergency preparedness documents at  These information sources provide guidance to help mature readiness at all levels of your organization.  When building or refining your strategy consider the lesson learned from Oroville–assets and systems rated as high risk in business impact assessments need to be tested, not just table-top tested.


  1. Kristine Guerra. “The government was warned that the Oroville Dam emergency spillway was unsafe. It didn’t listen.” Washington Post. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.
  2. Wikipedia contributors. “Oroville Dam.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.