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Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes*, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira †
Universidade Federal do Ceará (UFC)
Av. Humberto Monte, s/n, Bloco 713, 60020-181, Fortaleza, Brasil
e-mail:, webpage:

Keywords: Dams, Risk, Weibull Distribution

Abstract. The risk quantification is a demanding task in a complete evaluation process

of dams, and it is an important tool to anticipate the diagnosis of accidents due to f aults
in the field of geotechnical engineering of dams. The use of probability functions to
represent the faults is an alternative way to establish the risk quantification. This paper
presents a methodology to the quantification of risk in dams as using the reliability
applied to the Weibull distribution. Dams classified as in high risk due to severe
anomalies presented in inspections are chosen as case study to validate the results
presented by the probability analysis. In the three cases of Premuoca, Forquilha and
Acaraú-Mirim, the method is adequated to the anomalies assessed.

In geotechnical field there is a possibility of faults and, therefore a proper
classification methodology is needed to use as an alarm tool option or as a decision
making tool, according to existing anomalies identified and their degrees. In this way,
this paper presents a Risk Assessment (RA) process developed from the concept of risk
and its constitutive elements.
Dams always imply an effective risk of failure, especially when downstream there are
people living, important properties or environmental values. So, appropriate measures
should be adopted, concerning the design, construction and operation of dams, to ensure
that the associated residual risk is kept very low, throughout the lifetime of the works
(AFONSO et al., 2015 8).
Since October 2010, the dams in Brazil has a regulatory protocol granted by the
National Information Systems on Dam Safety (NISDM) introduced by the Law 12,334
(BRASIL, 20101), which impacted directly the companies acting on water supply, energy,
environment quality and education sectors. The NISDM institute the regular inspection as
the starting of the safety protocol, and the remediation intervention, according to the
anomalies identified, as the final stage. The interventions are defined according to the
risk associated to the structural safety and its quantification is very important to support
the decision-making process.
The 12,334/2010 Law and its Regulation 143/2012(R143) 2 introduces a qualitative
classification method, and it restricts the complete diagnosis of RA. In a group of dams

Universidade Estadual Vale do Acaraú (UVA)

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

with same quality label it is not possible to fix a range of intervention respecting the
restrictions of the owner budget. Therefore, it is necessary a complementary quantitative
risk assessment (QRA).
A reliable QRA depends on anomalies data with the respective fault probability.
According to Caldeira (2008) 9, instead of one more traditional approach of the safety, the
QRA might be an additional tool of assessment, available to transform the decision
making into a rational and objective process, meaning a method for continue assessment
using periodically updated anomalies data and respective probabilities.
Usually accidents with dams are due to some type of anomalies, which were not
properly detected and/or diagnosed. The most frequent anomaly detected in embankment
dam is the internal erosion raised for a piping, followed by slope deformations
(MENESCAL et al., 2001) 11.
This paper is focused in piping and slope deformation anomalies, the probability of
these events occur in a dam in operation and a proper statistical distribution to define a
QRA, that was defined as the Weibull distribution, after some research among the several
statistics models present in the concerning literature. This definition is supported by the
validation of the developed methodology applied to three case studies.

The validation of the QRA purposed, using the Weibull distribution, was made with
three selected cases, according to their location in the region next to the University: the
Premuoca, Forquilha and Acaraú-Mirim dams, where the first one is at the Coreaú
watershed and the last ones at the Acaraú watershed, both belonging to the hydrological
system in the northwest of Ceará state (Brazil), as illustrated in the Figure 1. The Table 1
presents some characteristics of the dams. Figures 2 to 4 present some anomalies
detected in those dams.

Figure 1: Location of the three study cases, Ceará state, Brazil. (Malveira et al., 2014)13.

Reservoir Crest Age

Dam Height (m) Soil
Storage (hm³) Extension (m) (years)
Premuoca 15,4 5,2 700 35 SM
Forquilha 26,3 51,2 300 95 SC
Acaraú-Mirim 20,0 52,0 360 109 SC

Table 1: Technical data of the case studies. (Malveira et al., 2014)13.

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

Figure 2: Acaraú-Mirim dam: large vegetation near the downstream slope.

Figure 3: Forquilha dam: shell deformations.

Figure 4: Premuoca dam: vertical slope stretch.


The first step of a risk quantification process is to define a risk function according to the
behavior of the real case in assessment and through stochastic data. This paper is about an
approaching of general probability distribution function with the concept of reliability, which
allows the insertion of random values as data to the simulation of possible scenarios. The
Table 2 presents the step-by-step methodology used in the QRA.

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

Step Description
1 Problem Formulation: identify the objective for the case.
2 Data Collect: define representative data to model.
3 Identify parameters: define the variables according to the case.

4 Model Formulation: apply a representative computational model

5 Model Avaliation: identify failures and inconsistencies in the model.

6 Simulations: simulation different scenarios.
Table 2: Methodology for the QRA process. (Gomes, 2016)5.

Garcia et al. (2010)12 defines simulation as a tool for the QRA useful to generate options to
be validated before the implementation of the best one. The validation step is very important
to define the proper and ideal methodology to use in general cases.
The steps 3 and 4 presented at the Table 2 are very important in the methodology, being
necessary a complete understanding of the process as a part of the whole system at risk. The
proper probability distribution will define the process (the anomaly behavior) and the
database might be representative of the possible scenarios.


In the geotechnical structures field, it is possible to occurs accidents caused by
ordinary faults, design inefficiency or bad maintenance and operation systems. The
definition of the risk might consider the possible events to start an accident, the
consequences and their association in the QRA (GOMES et. al, 2016) 4. Therefore, the
behavior of the real case and its anomalies are necessary to select the right parameter to
approach the probability associated to its occurrence.
The reliability concept includes these demands and the Weibull distribution was
developed with this purpose. Reliability is here associated to very successful operation or
with no faults in the process as pointed by Carnaúba and Sellito (2013) 3. In engineering
field, the reliability is granted by a specific design, with clear rules of operation and
maintenance over the life time of the structure (MACHADO and ANDRADE, 2013) 7.
According to Carnaúba and Sellito (2013)3, the Weibull distribution is a semi-
empirical equation used in maintenance engineering field, available for a huge range of
scenarios where the system can be divided in parts. The equation was presented by
Waloddi Weibull in 1939, concerning to his research about the steel strength as a tool for
identify the initial time of the failure. It is a probability density function type density
probability, restricted to events increasing or decreasing continually, recommended for
reliability and durability studies (SIMONETTI et al., 2009) 10. The Weibull distribution is
presented in the equations 1 to 4.
 −1
   t − t 0    t − t0  
f (t ) =    e −    (1)
         

 −1
   t − t 0 
h(t ) =    (2)
    

  t − t0  
R(t ) = e −    (3)
    

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

F (t ) = 1 − R (t ) (4)
In these equations,  is the shape or intensity parameter;  is the time life
characteristic index; t is the period of time till a failure; t0 is the period without failure;
f(t) is the Weibull probability density function; h(t) is the rate of failure of the Weibull
distribution; R(t) is the reliability function of the Weibull distribution and; F(t) is the
accumulated density function of the Weibull distribution.
The shape parameter  might be parameterized according to the behavior of the case
studied and his value is very important in the response of the Weibull distribution. A
small variation of  change the rate of F(t). Table 3 presents a range of possible values to
, depending on the behavior of the failure.

 Behavior of the function h(t)

<1 Decreasing the intensity continuously
=1 Constant
>1 Increasing the intensity continuously
=2 Linearly increasing
Table 3: Possible values for , depending on the behavior of the failure. (Gomes, 2016)5.

According to Gomes et al. (2016) 4,6, the main challenge in modeling using the Weibull
distribution for dams consists in define a proper value to , to associate the anomaly to
the right period of operation. For that approach, it is recommended a value for  < 1, in
the initial phase of operation, corresponding to the most critical load for the dam – the
first fulfillment of the reservoir. This period corresponds to the first 7 years and the
anomalies occur due to inefficient design of internal drainage or faults in the construction
For the intermediate period of operation, from 8 to 50 years, it is recommended a
value to  = 2, once the anomalies still can be rising, if to the embankment is not applied
a good maintenance and operation strategy. At the end of this period it is possible to
observe a stabilization of anomalies. Over 50 years, the aging of the dam, it is
recommended the value of  > 1, due the risk rises concomitantly with the age of the dam
(GOMES et al., 2016) 4. This approach has shown that the risk of failure of a dam in
operation increases as the values of  are close to 1.
Another way to verify and apply the influence of the shape parameter is to associate
the value with the quality of the material (soil) used in the dam. It is possible to associate
shape parameter values close to 1 with the most vulnerable materiel, which generates a
greater risk. The parameter values for less vulnerable materials would be established
according to the adequacy between a quality scale and the established failure
probabilities. In this research, only values of  > 1 were considered, due the situation of
less intensity in the growth of the risk can be related to the monitoring of the dams.
The Premuoca dam was constructed with the most vulnerable soil type among the 3
selected cases. It was used SM in its embankment and SC in the others ones. The
vulnerability of SM is associated to the severe slope deformation at its upstream slope,
anomaly observed after the 3rd year in operation. The three cases present also anomalies
associated to internal erosion or inefficient internal drainage and signs of piping at the
downstream slope.
The validation of the  t and t0 follow the information collected with the locals
during the inspections. The parameterization was according to the time in operation and
for the 3 cases 3 scales of period were considered: initial period from 0 to 7 years;

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

intermediate period from 8 to 50 years and; the aging period, over 50 years. Tables 4 and
5 resume the parameterization assumed in the modeling for the three cases and for the
two anomalies separately.

Acaraú-Mirim Forquilha Premuoca

1,4 1,6 1,2
The soil type is not a risk The soil type is a vulnerable
 The soil type is a vulnerable
factor but there is irregular risk factor, being the worst of
risk factor.
occupation downstream all cases
55-70 55-70 1-3/12-15

Random values due the absence maintenance during the life time
75-109 75-95 1-7/20-35
Values established according
t Values established according to the life time of the dam
to significant periods of the
and its current time in operation.
life of the dam.
50 50 0,25/10
Random value according to the period analyzed.
Table 4: Parameters assumed for piping anomaly.

Piping is a type of anomaly mostly associated to the initial or to the intermediate

period of operation. As pointed before, initially due the faults in design or construction,
during the intermediate due the lack of maintenance and remediation.
The slope deformation is associated to the vulnerability of soil type and the lack of
maintenance and remediation. It is important to consider the possible critical situation
due the presence of non-saturated soil, very common in semiarid region, where are
located the case studies.

Acaraú-Mirim Forquilha Premuoca

1,6 1,8 1,4
Although it presents the
same soil as Forquilha, the Considering the relationship of vulnerability between soils and
 occupation immediately other factors influencing the risk, this dam presents the lowest
downstream increases the intensity of risk growth.
intensity of growth of the
risk of this dam.
55-70 55-70 15-20
 Considering the absence of information on past ages and the useful life that was found in a
dam, these values were arbitrated.
65-109 65-95 25-35
t Values established considering the period of the useful life of the dam is and its current time in
50 50 10
Value arbitrated to adequation the period analyzed.
Table 5: Parameters assumed for slope deformation anomaly.

Using the parameters defined at the Tables 4 and 5, which generated more than 200
scenarios, the Weibull distribution was solved, and the results are presented at the
Figures 5 to 11 and resumed at Tables 6 and 7.

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

Figure 5: Premuoca: results for piping in the third year.

Figure 6: Premuoca: results for piping in the Figure 7: Premuoca: results for slope deformation
current period. in the current period.

Figure 8: Forquilha: results for piping in the current Figure 9: Forquilha: results for slope deformation
period. in the current period.

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

Figure 10: Acaraú-Mirim: results for piping in the Figure 11: Acraú-Mirim: results for slope
current period. deformation in the current period.

Forquilha Acaraú-Mirim
3rd year Now
MIN: 59.38% MIN: 75.12% MIN: 17.51% MIN: 21.07%
MAX: 96.55% MAX: 97.22% MAX: 51.59% MAX: 66.82 %
Table 6: Results for piping anomaly.

The maximum value of 96.6% for F(t) in the Premuoca dam is very representative in
the validation process, according to the associated parameters previously the established.
A  > 1 was applied and the failure in the dam was observed at the 3rd year of operation.
The second higher value for F(t) is also for Premuoca dam, which also is associated to
the parameters previously the considered. Premuoca was constructed with a vulnera ble
soil type and presents signals of piping. The dam also presents the most severe slope
deformation, even being the youngest dam.

Premuoca Forquilha Acaraú-Mirim
MIN: 48.75% MIN: 6.06% MIN: 8.15%
MAX: 87.06% MAX: 50.18% MAX: 67.34 %
Table 7: Results for slope deformation anomaly.

In the Premuoca dam it can be observe a long extension of scarp, just under the crest.
The slope deformations in Forquilha and Acaraú-Mirim dams consists in local loss of

The QRA methodology purposed, according to the research results, is a strong tool
that can be used in general cases such the ones presented in the cases studies.
Unfortunately, they are very representative of others dams of the same owner, where
there is no a maintenance and operation system. The QRA using the Weibull distribution
is very versatile, once it allows a design of random scenarios.
The methodology also allows a classification of the dams according to the urgency in
interventions for remediation. In this paper, for example, the Premuoca dam is the most
critical case for both anomalies, followed by Forquilha and Acaraú-Mirim.

Francisco Hiago de S. Gomes, Vanda Tereza C. Malveira

For the next assessments it will be possible simplify the parameterization process,
after the results presented in this research, very aligned to the established concepts and
comprehension of the real process. We do not recommend the application of the
methodology without previous field inspections, step very important to parameterization.

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