Encouraging Municipalities to Take Charge in the Updating of their FEMA Flood Maps
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is administered through the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and continues facing an enormous challenge in accurately and fairly protecting properties from flood damage. With lives and livelihoods at stake, this growing crisis requires particular attention to its flood maps. The scale, detail and date of a flood map can have a significant impact on a community. The role of local governments in the development of more accurate flood maps is becoming very important as all levels of government begin to look into ways of providing effective and affordable flood insurance coverage for property owners.
Several recent studies, including a 2013 FEMA report, are all warning of increased flooding and flood damage. These trends suggest an increase in costs that the current NFIP cannot keep up. Part of this reason stems from providing subsidies to make the purchase of property in flood-prone areas more affordable. Another reason are the flood maps themselves. Often, these maps undergo infrequent updates—if any—and they often lack the level of detail necessary for an accurate flood assessment.
Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 became the first significant attempt to reform these two NFIP deficiencies. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence warranted dramatic increases on flood insurances for many homeowners, many of who were on fixed-incomes. In response, Congress later passed the Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013. This act, signed into law by President Obama, was executed to delay the insurance rate increases by continuing insurance subsidies through a new surcharge issued with every flood policy.
Ultimately, rising costs in flood insurance can be mitigated for future homeowners when communities make the investment to create accurate flood maps for FEMA and then update these maps every few years. Often, governments and their residents become less aware of the impact new construction has on a flood prone area. The more permeable surface coverage is removed, the less water that can be reabsorbed during a storm. With greater flood map accuracy, local governments are in a greater position for NFIP to work for their community and not against.
According to the Association of State Floodplain Managers, flood map updates can run between $10,000 and $100,000 depending on the scale and detail. Because of this expense, municipalities are encouraged to partner not only with FEMA, but also with their state and county governments, institutions such as local colleges and universities and even non-governmental area organizations (NGO’s) committed to environmental hazard mitigation.
With current technology, officials have the ability to assess the risk of a particular neighborhood or building for 10 to 25 years, possibly even up to 500 years. This capability can be put to good use today with funds leveraged by partnerships and through federal grants like FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants.