In the new era of flood risk assessment, management, and communication, there is an increased need for awareness and action. Due to the increasing severity of storms and continued development, stakeholders don’t always have the tools needed to take action to protect their own lives and properties.
Key to Georgia’s approach with Risk Mapping, Analysis, and Planning (Risk MAP) is to maintain a continuous conversation with communities and residents throughout the lifecycle of a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). To achieve this, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) applies a multi-faceted approach to its outreach. Each year, Georgia participates in 10 to 12 conferences where staff present and operate a booth. Cooperating Technical Partner (CTP) staff also engage with individuals at fairs and local malls, as well as at one-on-one meetings. The CTP is focused on engaging all stakeholders within a community, from realtors to the chambers of commerce to regional commissions.
Georgia uses a variety of online tools to communicate risk. Central to this digital engagement is a website, www.GeorgiaDFIRM.com. An important website feature provides the ability for property owners to look up the flood risk for their property and print a snapshot that they can bring to an insurance agent or lender. Using data from the Flood Risk Database that the state has developed through its Risk MAP projects, the printed snapshot includes the flood zone and panel index information as well as the chance of flooding over the course of 30 years. The next evolution of the website will include depth grid information on the printout, as well.
The website also includes information targeted directly to community officials. The Georgia Outreach Guidebook is an online resource containing various educational materials and tailorable communication templates for communities to use in their own outreach efforts. The website also offers a password-protected Contact Management System containing contact information for all floodplain administrators and Chief Executive Officers in the state, to give local officials a means to more easily reach out to one another for best practices.
In addition, Georgia uses social media to reach communities. The state maintains a YouTube page (see Resources) that contains interviews with community officials and explains the importance of floodplain management. Additionally, the Georgia Flood Map Program has a Facebook page (see Resources) where meetings are advertised, and where updates are provided, and storm-related information is disseminated during weather events. The site also incorporates RSS (Really Simply Syndication) feeds from FEMA.gov and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA.gov).
Using another Risk MAP product, the Changes Since Last FIRM (CSLF), in conjunction with tax assessor’s maps provided by communities, Georgia can automatically generate letters specific to a property based on the flood hazard data reflected on the new FIRM. The letters are co-branded with the logos from both the state and the local community, and the community receives copies to send out. An additional benefit of using the CSLF to identify the number of properties for which the flood risk has changed is that Georgia and its local communities can better plan for their Flood Risk Open Houses by estimating the number of attendees.
Increased outreach has benefited both community officials and residents. Forsyth County, Georgia—in the top 100 fastest-growing counties in the country—provides an example of improved engagement. Outreach efforts are extremely important due to the large size of the population. During a RiskMAP project, the state mailed Open House notifications to 2,800 residents, of which 240 attended a meeting. This helped increase risk awareness and resulted in less stress on the local officials because of the reduced volume of calls.
By continuously engaging communities, Georgia has educated community officials and empowered them to answer questions from the public. Additionally, the public is better educated on flood risk.
Risk Mapping Assessment, and Planning Program (Risk MAP) Phases
This project involved the following Risk MAP phases:
- Data Development and Sharing
- Risk Awareness and Mitigation Outreach
- Proposed NFIP Map Changes and Impacts
- Preliminary Map Release and Mitigation
- Due Process and Path Forward
Risk MAP Goals Advanced
The Risk MAP goals that were advanced through this project included:
- Increasing Awareness
Providing community officials with the information and tools that they need to communicate flood risk to their citizens encourages communities to take ownership of their flood hazard data. In general, people may be apt to listen more closely to local community officials if they view them as key local allies in communicating flood risk. The Georgia DNR staff is focused on engaging all stakeholders within a community through conferences, events, tools and resources made available for the public and community officials at www.GeorgiaDFIRM.com.
Haydn Blaize, M.S. Eng. Manager, Floodplain Unit