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About The High Water Mark Initiative

This page highlights the High Water Mark (HWM) Initiative and how HWM Projects can help communities to raise awareness about flood risk and mitigation action. This page is intended for local officials, emergency management personnel, and 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 Harvey and Maria, as well as countless others, have ravaged American communities, costing billions a year in recovery, restoration, and rebuilding. However, less than one-third (30 percent) of respondents to FEMA’s national Flood Risk Awareness Survey believed their communities were at risk of flooding. In fact, a vast majority of Americans (90 percent of respondents) do not believe flooding was the primary hazard their communities faced. To address this challenge, FEMA partnered with other 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:

  1. Will host a high-profile HWM sign unveiling and/or launch event,
  2. Develop continuous flood risk awareness and outreach activities around the signs, and
  3. Complete specific mitigation action(s) that the community will take to reduce flood risk for residents.

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; hold an event with public officials and local leaders to launch the Initiative; and conduct 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 agency partners, over 60 new communities expressed interest in being part of the HWM Initiative. In engaging new communities, FEMA began recommending communities to commit to a long-term mitigation action as part of their participation in the HWM Initiative. The following communities joined the initiative:
  • Santa Rosa County, FL
  • San Anselmo, CA
  • Gulf Coast, MS
    • Biloxi
    • D'Ibervillle
    • Gulfport
    • Harrison County
    • Long Beach
    • Pass Christian
    • Ocean Springs
    • Waveland
  • Leon Valley, TX
  • Monmouth County, NJ
    • Aberdeen
    • Atlantic Heights
    • Avlon
    • Belmar
    • Hazlet
    • Keansburg
    • Manasquan
    • Middletown
    • Monmouth Beach
    • Neptune Township
    • Ocean Township
    • Sea Bright
    • Rumson
  • Richmond, VA
  • New York, NY

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. Since the initiative began, we have worked with the following key federal partners:

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:

  • 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.
  • Opportunity to lead and coordinate the HWM initiative

To join the HWM Initiative, please contact Vincent Brown at

Last Updated: 
04/28/2020 - 19:28