Outdated Flood Maps Fuel Reform
When the 1,000-year-flood event hit south Louisiana last month, an estimated 60,000 structures were damaged, including those both inside and outside of the flood zone. In a hearing last week, Representative John Mica (FL-07) noted that 80 percent of homeowners did not have flood insurance because, based on maps produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), they were not in areas that were considered vulnerable to flooding. These floodmaps are in urgent need of updating and were the focus of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing to review the recommendations of the Technical Mapping Advisory Council’s (TMAC) 2015 Annual Report for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
TMAC was established in 2012 when the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 became law and recognized the need for reform within the NFIP pertaining to remapping and floodplain management. TMAC’s purpose is to review flood maps and make recommendations to FEMA about bettering mapping methods, standards, guidelines. TMAC’s 2015 annual report includes suggestions for improving the cost-effectiveness of disseminating flood maps and data, standards and guidelines for data quality, and interagency and intergovernmental coordination on risk determination and mapping. In general, witnesses and members were supportive of the recommendations. Mr. John Dorman (Director, North Carolina Flood Risk Management Program), went so far as to say that TMAC’s recommendations, if implemented, will “transform the program and improve our nation’s resiliency to flooding.”
Much of the discussion centered on one of TMAC’s recommendation that, for insurance rating purposes, they should transition to a structure-specific flood frequency determination rather than a 100-year floodplain model. Currently, flood insurance rates depend on how high the lowest level of a building is from the base flood elevation, which is derived from the chance of a 100-year flood. However, this does not take into account increasing occurrences and likelihood of frequent flood events, as predicted in the National Climate Assessment. Thus, TMAC recommends that insurance ratings be based on a more structure-specific approach, meaning data on specific buildings would be pooled from local, state, and federal levels and used to determine the chance of flooding more precisely for the specific building, resulting in a more accurate insurance rating. Mr. Roy Wright (Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance and Mitigation, FEMA) cautioned that this recommendation “requires a science to evolve and resources level that may not exactly be knowable today.
Mr. Wright shared that FEMA has already begun implementing TMAC’s recommendations that are technical and addressable through updates to their policy, such as investing in high resolution topographical data to improve mapping accuracy, but the recommendation regarding structure-based risk insurance premiums still needs more research and planning. After the hearing, Chairman Richard Shelby (AL) released a statement about his hope that TMAC’s recommendations and Mr. Wright’s testimony will result in much-needed reform.