Mass. Urges Coastal Communities to Elevate Structures Above Floodwaters

May 27, 2008

Coastal communities in Massachusetts should encourage property owners to elevate their buildings to avoid future flooding and storm surge damage, according to officials advising on storm mitigation efforts.

In addition to protecting the structures, raising houses above floodwaters can save homeowners on flood insurance, savings that could offset the cost of elevating the home. Communities can also save since elevated municipal structures won’t need to have their basements pumped and important records and equipment within them will not be damaged.

A method known as freeboard can raise a building’s lowest floor by about one to three feet.

The recommendation is just one in a series backed by StormSmart, a mitigation program under the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management that advises communities on coastal development. The recommendation is from a report by the Multihazard Mitigation Council, a unit of the National Institute of Building Sciences, and has been adopted by federal flood insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials.

The Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council study found that every $1 spent on flood mitigation such as elevating homes saves society $4. “The protective value of many proactive measures greatly exceeds their initial expense,” according to the report.

Communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) are required to elevate structures so that the lowest floor is at or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE).

In addition to elevating structures, the report suggests other retrofitting measures. These include incorporating freeboard into design, anchoring structures to resist flotation, reducing or completely removing impervious ground cover, and installing protective structures over windows and doors.

In some situations, relocating or removing structures may be the only options for avoiding costly damage from flooding.

Government funding may be available for retrofitting, relocation and even removal.

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