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The Future of Floodplain Management

Release Date

Assistant Administrator for Mitigation, Katherine Fox, shares her views on floodplain management standards and how FEMA is working to improve them.

Let’s reflect on the world in 1976. One of the biggest movies of the year was Rocky, where (spoiler alert!) an underdog boxer fights the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. Queen sang Bohemian Rhapsody, and ABBA sang Dancing Queen. The Apple Computer Company was created.  

In 1976, FEMA did not exist. More than 100 separate federal agencies had control over aspects of emergency management. At the time, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA) were providing flood insurance in communities that voluntarily adopted and enforced floodplain management rules that met minimum requirements. In more than 40 years, this helped to incur 65% less flood damage on average and save the nation over $100 billion in losses.

In response to states championing efforts to consolidate disaster management functions, President Jimmy Carter signed an Executive Order in 1979 to establish FEMA.  Since then, a lot has changed. There have been five sequels to Rocky, 3-time Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep became the Dancing Queen in Mamma Mia!, and I’m sure you remember Wayne and Garth infamously ‘partying on’ to Bohemian Rhapsody in Wayne’s World.  

Since that year, there have also been at least 80 separate, billion-dollar flood and tropical storm events accounting for over $1.1 trillion dollars in losses and 61% of the total costs of all disasters during that time. 

Though much about the world and about emergency management over the past 45 years has changed, NFIP floodplain management standards have largely stayed the same.

However, we’ve learned a lot in that time about the changing nature of flood risks, and now we have the opportunity to reevaluate floodplain minimum standards.  Earlier this month, FEMA published a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on opportunities to amend the NFIP’s minimum floodplain management standards to help communities become safer, stronger, and more resilient, and the White House highlighted our Request For Information (RFI) in a Fact Sheet:  Biden Administration Makes Climate Information and Decision Tools More Accessible.  

This RFI provides a tremendous opportunity to evaluate how we can continue to adapt our programs to better address the increasing risk of flood damage.  We know that flood and coastal storm events are increasing in frequency and severity. By the end of 2020, billion-dollar flood and coastal storm events had increased in frequency by over 50% from the previous decade, and 70% of the costs of those disasters were incurred in just the last three years.  

In addition to written comments, FEMA will host two 90-minute virtual public meetings to collect verbal comments from the public, including private sector, government and non-government entities. Participants must register in advance and will be confirmed on a first-come, first-served basis.

As we move forward, we are committed to incorporating future conditions and changing risks into our program delivery.  When we consider changes to our NFIP minimum standards, we will reflect on lessons learned over the decades, and we also recognize that future flood risks will continue to increase.  We must be ready to continually adapt to changing conditions. 

For more information on FEMA’s efforts and what your community can do, visit our Floodplain Management page.

Last updated November 1, 2021