FEMA's Risk MAP Program Revisited

In February, I wrote a column discussing FEMA's Risk MAP program. At the time, Risk MAP was just getting underway. The concept was still in its planning stage, and it hadn't yet been brought before Congress. Now, almost nine months later, it's a good time to take another look at the program to see if it's reaching some of its goals.

I met recently with FEMA staff to discuss the progress of the Risk MAP program. The FEMA staff members I spoke with were very proud of the progress of the program and optimistic about its future. I learned that the vision of Risk MAP changed somewhat since earlier in the year. The new vision is: "through collaboration with State, Local and Tribal entities, Risk MAP will deliver quality data that increases public awareness and leads to action that reduces risk to life and property." This is a bit more focused than their previous vision.

FEMA also developed its Risk MAP multi-year plan. The plan is for fiscal years 2010-2014. It was approved by the Department of Homeland Security (the agency where FEMA resides) on March 16, 2009. The plan was provided to both the House and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. It will be the basis for FEMA's appropriations request for the Risk MAP program.

The March 16, 2009 plan builds upon the issues that I discussed in my February Risk MAP column. It clearly defines and refines those issues and discusses five goals. The FEMA staff that I spoke with summarized the goals as follows:

  • Goal 1: Address gaps in flood hazard data to form a solid foundation for risk assessment, floodplain management, and actuarial soundness of the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Goal 2: Ensure that a measurable increase of the public's awareness and understanding of risk results in a measurable reduction of current and future vulnerability.
  • Goal 3: Lead and support states, local, and tribal communities to effectively engage in risk-based mitigation planning resulting in sustainable actions that reduce or eliminate risks of life and property from natural causes.
  • Goal 4: Provide an enhanced digital platform that improves management of Risk MAP, stewards information produced by Risk MAP, and improves communication and sharing of risk data and related products to all levels of government and the public.
  • Goal 5: Align risk analysis programs and develop synergies to enhance decision-making capabilities through effective risk communication and management.

Congress authorized FEMA to spend $220 million in FY 09 on updating, reviewing, and maintaining maps to ensure that flood maps remain current and accurately reflect flood hazards. The projects selected by FEMA under the Risk MAP program for FY 09 will focus on coastal, levee, and other riverine flood hazards and will leverage established Cooperating Technical Partner relationships. A total of 465 Risk MAP flood map update projects are being initiated in FY 09 including: 69 coastal projects, 123 levee projects, and 273 other riverine projects. All of these projects are expected to be local-contractor based. Many of the coastal projects do not include costs to complete the coastal engineering and DFIRM (digital flood insurance rate map) production.

This fiscal year, FEMA will use at least $37 million to perform large-scale storm surge modeling for coastal areas determined to be in most need. It has been estimated that this funding would result in more than 20 counties-representing approximately 1,800 miles of coastline-receiving fully updated FIRMs.

FEMA has a plan to deal with the large number of levees in the country that are in disrepair and therefore open to flood hazards. During FY 09, FEMA will fund the review and update of DFIRMs to ensure that the flood hazards and risk premium zones associated with levees are accurate. The review and update will include counties affected by the expiration of Personally Accredited Levees (PALs). The PAL process was instituted to provide a reasonable balance between providing timely and accurate flood hazard data to the public, while giving communities and levee owners an opportunity to submit the required documentation needed to accredit a levee system on NFIP maps.

It is up to the levee owners to provide the necessary technical data needed to accredit a levee system. Ongoing mapping projects are not being delayed to accommodate approaching PAL expirations. FEMA will fund the PAL remapping project from initiation of the project, through the PAL expiration date, to a final effective map. If data is received that changes the levee status during the PAL remapping project, FEMA will go back to map the levee accordingly.

The final area of Risk MAP projects are those related to riverine flood hazards. These projects are based upon needs for updated flood hazard analysis because of physical changes and development in the floodplain, climate changes (such as recent flood disasters or additional stream gage data), and engineering methodology changes (such as improved computer models and a better understanding of the physics of water flow). This is the largest area of Risk MAP projects because the need is based on three types of ever-changing factors. When reviewing the riverine projects, priority will be given to those for which state and communities bring significant cost-share, those with data as a result of a federally declared flood disaster, or those with the greatest number of flood insurance policies.

As the Risk MAP program continues to grow, there should be a continued need for surveying and mapping professionals to complete the needed work. It's probably still too early to determine if Risk MAP has already reached any of its goals, but based upon its revised plan of action, it should be able to reach them.

About the Author

  • Laurence Socci
    Laurence Socci
    Laurence Socci is the chief executive manager and senior lobbyist of The CLA Group, LLC, a government consulting, lobbying, and advocacy firm in Washington, D.C., specializing in representing businesses and associations. He is also the government affairs consultant for the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM).

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