Drones Help Inspect Dams

Unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones) are helping to reduce the costs and human risks involved in inspecting TVA facilities and equipment—especially dams.

AUGUST 22, 2016— Drone technology is being used across the United States to improve farming, study wildlife, fight wildfires and save lives through search and rescue. Now TVA—always been a leader in deploying technology to increase efficiency and reduce operating costs—is using drones to help inspect its equipment and facilities.
Scott Kramer, manager of TVA Dam Safety Inspections says, “Now unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs) are offering TVA a safe, cost-effective alternative to human rope-access inspections.”


According to Kramer, TVA regularly inspects a number of exterior features that are crucial to the safety and integrity of the dam, including spillway gates, tunnels, downstream slopes, surge tanks and remote locations on penstocks. Dam Safety regularly contracts with engineering firms to perform rope-access inspections to inspect the entire dam face for cracks, joint offsets, concrete damage, gate misalignment and overall condition.

“While appropriate safety measures are always employed, there is inherent risk in performing rope-access inspections of these features at our dams,” Kramer says. “The drone is video equipped and will allow us to inspect these dams more safely and expeditiously. We plan to operate the drone from locations on or near each dam on federal property in TVA’s custody and control.”

Benefits of drone inspections include:

  • Speed—Once on site, a drone can be deployed in a matter of minutes, and with no need to put clearances or hold orders in place. Depending on what is being inspected, the set up for a rope-access inspection could take several hours in order to ensure safety for the climber and all others involved.
  • Agility—Drones have the ability to perform emergency inspections in hard to reach locations or in areas that are unsafe to place personnel.
  • Safety—No clearances or hold orders need to be in place to fly a drone for inspections, due largely to the fact that a person is not being placed in an area where injury could occur.
  • Cost Savings—Rope-access inspections are expensive, with many basic inspections costing upwards of $10,000 for one site. Drone use is much more cost effective.

Other uses for UAVs include aerial photography, construction monitoring, monitoring of dam during flood inspections and lock miter gate inspections.

“UAVs enable an engineer or inspector to remotely monitor what the camera is observing,” Kramer explains. “This technology enables TVA inspectors to capture imagery data of dam’s face and gates for current and future reference more safely, efficiently and accurately than traditional methods.”

No drones may be flown over TVA facilities or properties that are not operated by properly qualified, certified and insured drone contractors. Operation of UAVs or drones by other contractors or TVA employees at a TVA facility, over TVA property or in support of TVA operations, is prohibited.

Dam Safety Is a Top Priority at TVA

Keeping its dams performing well and the communities near them safe is a top priority for TVA. That's why TVA monitors its dams routinely and continuously updates its Dam Safety Program to meet current industry standards. Find out more about TVA’s Dam Safety Program.