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How High Water Mark Projects Work

This page highlights how communities can plan for and execute a High Water Mark (HWM) Project to raise awareness about flood risk and mitigation action. This page is intended for local officials, emergency management personnel, community leaders as well as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Regions, federal, state, and local entities.

We have reorganized the HWM Initiative and FEMA's involvement in HWM projects moving forward. As such, we have developed the FEMA High Water Mark (HWM) Initiative Toolkit that provides communities with all of the information and tools they need to coordinate their own HWM Projects, along with recommendations for accessing FEMA technical assistance, obtaining FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) Program points through HWM projects and partnering with federal agencies like the USACE Silver Jackets Teams, which are now involved with HWM signage activities.  FEMA will no longer be able to provide sign funding so communities will need to work with their local, state and other federal partners to identify funding to produce their own signs.


Communities work in close partnership with FEMA and other federal partners on an HWM project. The project has two parts:  (1) build flood risk awareness through an HWM Launch Event and other communications and outreach efforts; and (2) reduce risk through mitigation actions that help protect the community from future flooding. FEMA Headquarters (HQ) staff administers the HWM Initiative with leadership support from FEMA regions. FEMA Regional staff work closely with community leaders to manage the project. Communities appoint an HWM Project Coordinator to plan a launch event and begin discussions on mitigation actions. The federal partners engage with the community and other partners through the monthly Federal Working Group meeting and collaborate to identify areas of support and additional resources for the community. Below are detailed roles and responsibilities of all the partners engaged in the HWM Initiative.

FEMA Headquarters' Role

FEMA HQ staff provide strategic and administrative support to the HWM initiative. In this role, FEMA:

  • Provides strategic direction and guidance for the implementation of the HWM Initiative
  • Promotes the HWM Initiative to communities in various meetings, events, and community forums
  • Identifies communities to be a part of the HWM Initiative
  • Facilitates and maintains the partnership of the Federal Working Group
  • Provides financial resources for sign printing and production
  • Aligns knowledge, information, and some financial resources (for sign production) to assist communities with their HWM Initiative
  • Provides expert advice for the planning and management of an HWM project

FEMA Regions’ Role

FEMA Regional office staff provide strategic and administrative support to the HWM Initiative. In this role, FEMA:

  • Appoints an HWM Regional Project Coordinator
  • Facilitates HWM project development, which includes conducting an initial planning meeting to address HWM Project logistics and strategy with the community
  • Works with the community to schedule a kick-off meeting with local, state, and federal participants to garner widespread support and collaboration for the HWM Project
  • Provides tools, templates, best practices, and guidance to help the community plan the Launch Event and other activities
  • Provides guidance and assistance in selecting and completing the mitigation action(s)
  • Leads strategic development of the HWM Project Plan including, where necessary, the identification of key milestones the community should meet
  • Engages federal agency representatives on behalf of the community to provide additional assistance to the project when necessary (with FEMA HQ support as needed)
  • Attends the HWM Launch Event

*Note:  If a federal partner is supporting an HWM Project, FEMA recommends working with the Regional Office for input if possible.

Community’s Role

The HWM Initiative is a community-based project whereby communities take the lead on designing, coordinating, and implementing an HWM project. As a part of that effort, communities identify mitigation actions from local and/or State Hazard Mitigation Plans (for example), which can be promoted through public outreach during the HWM Launch Event. In this role, the community:

  • Provides subject matter expertise as needed
  • Coordinates with the FEMA Region to schedule a kick-off meeting with local, state, and federal participants to garner widespread support and collaboration for the project
  • Schedules post-Launch Event meetings in the community and provides brief status reports, as needed
  • Appoints a representative as HWM Project Coordinator and notifies the FEMA Region designee of any change in the designated liaison
  • Determines the date, time, and location of the HWM Launch Event, manages local logistics, and leverages media engagement and outreach, and local partnerships
  • Determines and agrees to the specific mitigation action(s) that will drive the theme and messaging of the HWM Launch Event and awareness activities
  • Ensures that the project coordinator will manage the communities’ completion of the identified mitigation action(s)
  • Holds a high-profile HWM Launch Event to unveil the HWM signs and to announce the project to the public, inviting local, state, and federal officials, the media, the public, and other key entities
  • Determines high-profile locations of and posts HWM signs throughout the community
  • Conducts ongoing outreach to share details on how individuals can protect themselves and their property from flood risk
  • Following the HWM Launch Event, provides updates to the FEMA Region designee on the status of the mitigation action(s) the community is completing.

Community Project Manager's Role

Group of people standing near high water mark sign in Sacramento, CA
HWM Project Sacramento and Roseville, CA

The community designates a HWM Project Manager to play a key role in implementing the project.

In this role, the Community Project Manager:

  • Establishes a theme for the HWM project and outlines the community’s mitigation action(s)
  • Identifies the timeframe for the project, including completion of the mitigation action(s), how the HWM launch event will align to other community initiatives, flood anniversaries, or flood seasons (such as hurricane season)
  • Manages the day-to-day interaction to execute the HWM Launch Event (including all planning meetings)
  • Identifies opportunities for mitigation within the community
  • Leads the implementation of future mitigation actions
  • Determines the number, design, development, and installation of HWM signs
  • Coordinates media outreach with the FEMA Region and other Federal partners
  • Provides updates to FEMA Regional staff or the lead Federal partner on progress of the various elements of the project
  • Provides updates to FEMA and the lead Federal partner on progress of the completion of the mitigation action(s)

Federal Partner’s Role

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. In this role, the federal partners:

  • Share expert advice on how to execute a HWM project and plan and promote a HWM Launch Event
  • Provide access to data to assist in understanding flood risk and determining sign location
  • Promote the HWM project and Launch Event through internal and external communication channels
  • Provide mitigation examples and resources to assist in identifying ways to reduce flood risk
  • Send a representative from their respective agencies to be part of the project on a community level (when possible)
  • Attend the HWM Launch Event
Last Updated: 
04/28/2020 - 19:32