The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is encouraging building back stronger and safer after major disasters in communities nationwide.
FEMA reported that FEMA-funded mitigation and public infrastructure recovery projects – including those in heavily impacted areas of the Gulf Coast region – are to be tied to new, higher floodplain elevations updated by FEMA using the most accurate flood risk data available.
“FEMA has a responsibility to protect lives and property, and to ensure that disaster rebuilding efforts use the best data available. We also have a responsibility to ensure that Federal tax dollars are spent wisely and cost-effectively. It makes no sense to rebuild using outdated data,” said David Maurstad, FEMA’s acting director for Mitigation and Federal Insurance Administrator.
Communities recovering from disasters in Louisiana, Mississippi and elsewhere will be required to use the new elevations when available. Called Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs), — the height at which there is a one percent or greater chance of flooding in a given year — the rebuilding standards will be required for all FEMA-funded mitigation and public infrastructure grant-based recovery program projects. This includes the Public Assistance program, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant program, Flood Mitigation Assistance program, and through the implementation of Executive Order 11988 Floodplain Management.
The FEMA grants tied to ABFEs are those for the repair and rebuilding of public infrastructure projects such as schools, public safety stations, libraries and other shared community infrastructure. Individual homeowners, while encouraged to build back to ABFEs, are not impacted by this FEMA policy unless using a FEMA mitigation grant in the rebuilding process. Homeowners should consult their community ordinances for rebuilding guidance.
FEMA conducted a benefit-cost analysis of typical public assistance recovery projects and found that building to the ABFEs is cost-effective, in addition to being safer, because it provides a greater level of protection and reduces the potential for future flood losses. Another recent independent study showed that, on average, mitigation activities, such as elevation, save the country $4 for every dollar spent. The “Benefits of Mitigation” study, done by the Multihazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences, shows that steps taken to make communities stronger before disasters pays off at a much higher rate than ever known.
“By using the ABFEs in FEMA’s grant programs, we are leading by example. Gulf Coast communities that rebuild using the ABFEs will be stronger, safer, and more sustainable,” said Gil Jamieson, FEMA’s deputy director for Gulf Coast Recovery.
Following Hurricane Katrina, at the request of local and state officials in Louisiana and Mississippi, FEMA conducted new flood risk assessments, incorporating tide and storm data from the past 25 years, to base the advisory elevations on the most current data available.
To date, FEMA has provided ABFEs for Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties in Mississippi; and Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne and Vermilion parishes in Louisiana. Additional ABFEs are being developed for four Louisiana Parishes, Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Jefferson, protected by levees. This includes the city of New Orleans. FEMA is working with State and local officials, and the Army Corps of Engineers, to analyze the situation and continue to assess the flood elevations behind the levees.
A base flood elevation is the height at which there is a one percent or greater chance of flooding in a given year. It is the minimum building standard of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Advisory Base Flood Elevations are produced to assist state and local officials and those rebuilding in making decisions on how to reconstruct to help minimize vulnerability to future flood events. The release of this guidance is for advisory purposes, and will not increase flood insurance premiums or flood insurance requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program.
In cases when FEMA funds are not involved, existing NFIP standards will apply. However, FEMA strongly encourages communities to use the ABFEs, when available, in making decisions about reconstruction and elevation requirements across all rebuilding efforts. By applying stricter requirements, communities can ensure a greater level of protection to homes and businesses from future severe storms.
For property owners rebuilding outside of a flood plain, flood insurance is still highly recommended. The ABFEs are designed to represent the 1-percent chance annual flood, but not rare, catastrophic events.
“All Gulf Coast communities affected by last year’s hurricanes should use the ABFEs as they go about the task of recovery,” said David Garratt, FEMA’s acting director of Recovery. “Rebuilding to these new elevations will reduce the risk of future flooding and enable the community to recover and be more resistant to the next storm through wise building practices.”
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