A Passion for Dam Safety Has Filipino Engineer Saving Lives on Both Sides of the Pacific Ocean

Roderick Dela Cruz, an SCE engineer, brings his expertise in dam safety and construction back to his homeland in the Philippines.

October 24, 2013 | By Bill Loving

For Roderick Dela Cruz, a Southern California Edison (SCE) senior engineer, a devastating flood in his native Philippines opened a path for him to bring SCE’s expertise in — and his passion for — public safety back to his homeland.

As a result of his efforts over the last four years to improve flood preparedness in the Philippines, Dela Cruz, 42, was recently given the Gawad Dangal ng Lipi Award, the highest recognition given by the government of his home province of Bulacan.

Dela Cruz’s journey started in the wake of the massive flooding from Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng in September and October, 2009. His hometown of Hagonoy was deluged, and some of his family members suffered property damage. Dela Cruz traveled home to offer assistance, and there he began conversations with the governor of Bulacan.

Dela Cruz, an eight-year SCE employee who specializes in dam safety for the Hydro Division of the Power Production Department, observed that the Bulacan province, and indeed the entire country, was ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of future floods. The danger he saw was not just from typhoons but from the country’s aging dams. Failure of any one of the largest dams “could become a national disaster,” he said.

For example, one of them, Angat Dam built in 1967, needs $120 million in retrofits, he said. Were it to fail, the deluge could affect more than 100,000 people who live downstream. The Angat Dam also supplies electricity and 97 percent of the drinking water for metro Manila.

Dela Cruz is intensely aware of the importance of monitoring and maintaining dams to ensure the safety of the public. That’s his job at Edison, which has 81 dams as part of its hydro-electric systems, 24 of which are considered potentially “high hazard.” Dela Cruz is the lead dam safety engineer for the company’s hydrology and hydraulics programs.

Dam failure is not just a theoretical danger, as Dela Cruz pointed out: The St. Francis Dam north of Los Angeles collapsed in 1928, killing more than 600 people. As a result of that disaster, California has stringent dam safety and inspection regulations.

During his visits to the Philippines, Dela Cruz realized that his home country had few if any dam safety or flood mitigation regulations. He began a public awareness campaign, and was invited in 2012 to act as a technical adviser in dam safety engineering for the Philippines government. 

“I was invited back as part of the ‘Returning Scientist’ program, which brings scientists living abroad home to the Philippines to work on projects,” he said.

Using his vacation time, he has traveled extensively across the country, making presentations and advocating dam safety legislation. A bill to improve dam safety and flood mitigation is currently before the Philippines national legislature.

Dela Cruz credits SCE for launching him onto this career path. “I had no experience with dams and dam safety when I started at Edison” as a civil engineer, he said. “SCE opened a lot of opportunities for me to expand my skills.”

Now, after seven years with the dam safety team at SCE, Dela Cruz is using those skills to watch out for the well-being of thousands of people on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. 

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