13 Investigates


Hoover Dam transformer fire raises concerns and questions about impact

Rapid response guides investigation
Hoover Dam Lake Mead level.JPG
Posted at 5:57 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 22:36:23-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The Hoover Dam creates Lake Mead, which helps supply drinking water for 25 million people in Nevada, Southern California and Arizona.

It also supplies hydroelectric power to 1.3 million households in those three states. So, it's natural when something happens at the dam, people worry about the impact.

The image of billowing black smoke and flames at the base of something so critical to so many people raises concerns, fears, and questions.

Former Las Vegas FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron Rouse said, "I was a little surprised like most Nevadans were—like most Americans were—because Hoover Dam has got such a spectacular record, but things are going to happen."

Rouse says when something happens to a piece of vital infrastructure like the Hoover Dam, everybody's going to pay more attention to it, and rightfully so.

"But I also know from personal experience, the professionalism and the response of all of the partners who work with Hoover Dam on a regular basis was exactly as you would expect. It was immediate, it was thorough, it was coordinated."

Part of the response to determine what happened involved temporarily canceling public tours, and bringing in a bomb-sniffing dog.

"That would be normal procedure," explained Rouse. "You absolutely want to look at any possibility for the reason for the fire, for the reason for that transformer to go, and it's just prudent."

Emphasizing again that sometimes stuff just happens, Rouse said equipment failure would be a bit surprising considering the amount of maintenance that goes on at Hoover Dam.

"I feel very confident that if there was a mistake that was made or if there was some sort of a lapse in any way, shape or form, it's going to be addressed and it's going to be addressed quickly and thoroughly, but the dam remains in tact, it is still functional."

And ongoing functionality is key for anything that supplies water, power, telecommunication or financial infrastructure.

"Those are all top priorities of the federal government to make sure that those things are safe, that there are response plans, that those response plans are exercised regularly and that lessons are learned each and every time. And there's going to be incidents because nobody is perfect and nothing is perfect. But the key component is making sure that you are learning from those things and making the necessary adjustments to either make sure it doesn't happen again or the likelihood is severely limited."

The multi-agency team overseeing the dam is trained to quickly respond and get to the bottom of any scenario, from the smallest to the largest possible event.

13 Investigates will be in close touch with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to see what the current investigation and inspection process reveals about what went wrong.

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