This page highlights the High Water Mark Initiative and how High Water Mark Projects can serve communities to raise awareness about flood risk and mitigation action. This page is intended for local officials, emergency management personnel, community leaders as well as FEMA Regions, Federal, state, and local entities.
The Need and Value of the HWM Initiative
Flooding is the number one natural disaster in the United States. Large storms such as Hurricanes Sandy and Ivan, as well as countless others, have ravaged American communities; costing billions a year in recovery, restoration, and rebuilding. However, less than one-third (30%) of respondents to FEMA’s national Flood Risk Awareness Survey believed their community was at risk of flooding. In fact, a vast majority of Americans do not believe flooding was the primary hazard their community faced (90% of respondents). To address this challenge, FEMA partnered with over seven Federal agencies to create the HWM Initiative to help improve the public’s awareness of flood risk and encourage communities to take long-term action to address this risk.
As part of the HWM Program, communities:
- Post HWM signs in prominent places,
- Hold a high-profile launch event to unveil the signs, and
- Conduct ongoing education to build local awareness of flood risk, and complete mitigation actions to build community resilience against future flooding.
From December 2012 to November 2013, FEMA and partner Federal agencies worked closely with five communities nationwide to pilot the HWM Initiative:
- Frankfort and Franklin County, KY (December 10, 2012)
- Harrisburg, PA (April 29, 2013)
- Nashville, TN (May 9, 2013)
- Orange Beach, AL (September 10, 2013)
- Sacramento and Roseville, CA (November 8, 2013)
As part of each HWM pilot, communities collaborated with local, state, and Federal organizations to post signs that identified how high flood waters have risen in the past; held an event with public officials and local leaders to launch the Initiative; and conducted ongoing outreach to increase awareness of flood risk among local residents. Through the pilots, FEMA learned that the HWM Initiative:
- Was effective at sparking discussion of flood risk among the community;
- Built lasting relationships across Federal, state, and local entities;
- Engaged diverse groups including businesses, faith-based organizations, and schools;
- Served as an entry point for discussions on mitigation of risk at a community level; and
- Enabled communities to leverage the Program for Public Information (PPI) for obtaining Community Rating System Rating (CRS) points.
Given the success of the HWM pilots, FEMA sought to engage new communities in the HWM Initiative. Through continued outreach and engagement of the Federal partners, over 40 new communities expressed interest in being part of the HWM Initiative. In December 2014, FEMA launched the HWM Initiative in Santa Rosa County, FL and San Anselmo, CA respectively. In 2015, FEMA launched a HWM Project in several communities in Mississippi to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The Role of the Federal Partners
Federal partners have always been a critical component of the HWM Initiative. Since the Initiative’s inception, Federal partners have committed to help communities increase the awareness of flood risk among their residents and provide expert knowledge and resources to assist in those efforts. Some of the key Federal partners include:
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service (NOAA NWS)
- NOAA Coastal Service Center
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Resources Conservation Service (USDA/NRCS)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
- U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- U.S. National Park Services (NPS), Center for Urban Ecology.
The Federal partners meet monthly, as part of a Federal Working Group, to discuss ways to assist communities interested in the Initiative and collaborate on ways to promote the HWM Projects. To date, the Federal partners have provided the following assistance to HWM communities:
- Financial resources to purchase HWM signs
- Expert advice on how to execute a HWM Project and plan and promote a HWM Launch Event
- Access to data to assist in understanding flood risk and determining sign location
- Communications and outreach assistance to promote the HWM Project and Launch Event
- Mitigation examples and resources to assist in identifying ways to reduce flood risk
- Tools and best practices for managing a HWM Project, including specific templates for communications plans, sign design, etc.