By Matthew Russell, Albany Joint Field Office
Big changes are coming to the National Flood Insurance Program and FEMA’s Pamela Harris wants to make sure flood-impacted communities from one end of New York State to the other know what to expect.
Harris, a certified floodplain manager with FEMA since 2002, is traveling to communities across New York recovering from summer flooding which hit the state in June and July (DR-4129). These “General Technical Assistance” visits with local officials are a key part of FEMA’s outreach to affected communities after a disaster. Harris is able to provide her expertise in a face-to-face setting with local leaders and answer their questions directly.
After looking at Preliminary Damage Assessments, flood claims and other factors, Harris and her state Floodplain Management partners worked together to develop a list of 66 priority communities affected by floods under DR-4129, which were the most in need of GTA visits. Her travels in support of this disaster have already taken her from Niagara County in Western New York to Clinton County in the state’s far northeastern corner and many points between.
“People have been very neighborly, very receptive to us,” she said as she prepared to stop in at a Catskill Mountain town clerk’s office recently. Harris often begins with a visit to the town clerk -- a good place to start if you want to know what’s going on and who’s who in a small town. Often, Harris will have a chat with a code enforcement official, town supervisor or village mayor about issues ranging from broad NFIP policy questions to concerns about the future of a specific, flood-impacted residential property.
Harris’ priority is to make sure local officials are aware of the resources available to them. She provides information on everything from contact information for state Floodplain Coordinators to links to online sources of information like NFIP Technical Bulletins. Harris said the goal is to provide the knowledge and skills officials need to properly administer their floodplain ordinances.
The biggest issue for many communities, Harris said, is the National Flood Insurance Program Reform Act of 2012 (“Biggert-Waters”). Some officials were not aware of the legislation, and many are concerned about its impact on policyholders and the community at large. Harris said the GTA visits provide these officials with a “heads-up” about changes to the NFIP, like the phase-out of grandfathered insurance rates on some at-risk properties. Harris provides local officials with information about the coming reforms as well as things policyholders and local officials can do to reduce risks to insurable properties.
When local officials have access to information about these coming changes, Harris said, it enables them to properly respond to residents with questions and concerns about how flood insurance rates will be affected by Biggert-Waters. Harris believes these in-person GTA visits are making a difference.
“I like to leave (officials) knowing what actions they can take. People need to be empowered with this information so that they can pass it along,” Harris said before heading down the road to the next town on her list.