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Living with Levees: Ideas for Effective Outreach

This page for community officials provides information on how a levee system’s condition and the community’s resulting flood risk can change over time. It also describes ways to communicate these changes more effectively through outreach programs and activities. Outreach to the media, local industries, residents, and other key stakeholders is covered.

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Community officials have a critical role in communicating with constituents about levee hazards.

Community Officials: Mapping Changes Related to Levees - Ideas for Effective Outreach

Know Your Risk, Know Your Role, Take Action Today!

The Community Officials Levee Outreach webpages provide many of the materials essential for you to begin communicating with different audiences about the condition of a local levee system, National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) flood hazard mapping changes in your area, and your community's flood risk. This information will help you target your overall approach to community outreach and facilitate a successful NFIP mapping project.

Start Early

If a preliminary NFIP map (or a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR)) is likely to include changes to the flood hazards related to a levee system, you should begin outreach activities several months the new map is issued. Starting those efforts as early as possible will let you identify and address key issues and obstacles and secure the broad-based support you need for the new flood hazard mapping.

Proactive Media Engagement

Local and regional media outlets will be interested in this issue and will want to know how the revised NFIP map and the new levee-related  flood hazards will affect members of the community. Providing the press with access to easily digestible information before the new maps are released will help give them a solid understanding of the process. Holding media pre-briefings and making presentations to newspaper editorial boards before the map release will allow reporters and editors to delve into key issues and ask important questions that will help them cover the events more completely and accurately. For more information, visit: https://www.fema.gov/living-levees-levee-resources-media.

Here are a few recommendations for engaging the media:

  • Include confirmed information and local data. Your materials should include local data on recent flooding, the number of flood insurance claims, mapping update schedules, recent levee improvements, and other “hard” information. Along with this local data, it is also helpful to provide context on why these numbers are important and how they affect people.
  • Emphasize the benefits of flood insurance and flood hazard mapping. Highlight the benefits and availability of flood insurance, including cost-saving options, as well as the importance of understanding the flood risks near levees. It is important to convey the importance of having insurance to reduce financial risk, even for structures that are not in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). The updated information also helps guide builders and developers to make structures less floodprone. To learn more about FEMA disaster assistance, visit: https://www.disasterassistance.gov.
  • Clearly define the timeframes associated with levee system accreditation and NFIP map changes. When flood hazard information or the status of a levee system changes, the media needs information that will help them convey what is happening and when it is happening. Presenting the media with materials that include key dates and timeframes will help promote coverage that clearly establishes when residents and communities need to act. From start to finish, the mapping process can take years to complete, and it is important to set accurate expectations within the community.
  • Use a variety of materials to convey your messages. Press releases, fact sheets, answers to frequently asked questions, and brief slideshow presentations can all be helpful for securing media coverage. Following up on a press release with a fact sheet, for example, can help a reporter fully understand the issue and accurately report on it. A slideshow presentation can help to keep things “on message” at editorial board meetings and town halls. However, one of the most important tools to use in outreach is factual story telling. In the beginning of your outreach, see if you can identify stories of past flooding and its impact. Adding a face and a factual narrative to flooding can strengthen your message.
  • Use a combination of tactics to generate broader coverage. Press conferences, one-on-one briefings, and presentations to newspaper editorial boards are all good methods to engage the media. They are most effective when used together. For example, a press conference announcing the release of new maps might be followed by more informal sit-downs with individual reporters to address their specific questions.

Industries can carry your messages forward - tap into their input and influence

Insurance, real estate, and lending industries will all be affected by the changes that new maps bring. They are also keenly aware of the messages and outreach approaches that resonate with, and make a difference to, their colleagues and clients. Keeping them updated about key developments in the NFIP map change process, getting their feedback on outreach materials, and tapping them to disseminate information to their colleagues and clients are all great ways to ensure the right messages reach the groups that need them most. Consider forming, and regularly convening, a stakeholder advisory group that includes representatives of key industries. Those industry stakeholders can react to, refine, distribute, and deliver key messages and materials. Involving them from the beginning can also help build consensus, especially if a contentious situation arises.

Residents and business owners need clear messages about flood risk and cost-saving options for reducing that risk

Individuals who own homes and businesses have made large investments in these properties. They need meaningful information about how risky it can be to take chances with flooding, especially if they live or work near a levee. After all, no levee can fully reduce the risk from flooding. Residents and business owners also need to know that flood insurance can be quite affordable, especially when compared to the costs of repairs or rebuilding if a flood strikes. Providing the public with messages and materials that stress both the risks and the cost-saving insurance options that are available will make the flood insurance requirement more palatable.

Influencing behavior requires frequency, not just reach - make sure you communicate often with all audiences

Providing accurate information is key to successful community engagement. It is critical to address any misconceptions and answer tough questions up front; it is equally important to find ways to repeat your messages as often as possible. Such open, transparent, and repeated communication is the only way to build consensus and garner buy-in. Holding public open houses or town hall meetings gives residents and business owners an opportunity to raise issues and concerns in a friendly, educational setting. It also gives you the chance to proactively provide answers. Similarly, convening regular stakeholder advisory group meetings allows you to update and recruit new partners and discuss the messages and materials so that the outreach is robust, organized, and effective.

Engage Key Decision Makers Early and Often

As elected local officials and community leaders, you will ultimately be responsible for adopting ordinances that make the new NFIP maps official and effective throughout the area. Often, you are also the first to hear complaints from concerned residents. Your ability to communicate key messages about the map change and to foster a better understanding of the options available to residents and businesses will help defuse many potential problems. To do so, you need to clearly understand both the NFIP map change process and the flood insurance implications. If you recognize that having new maps is a positive step toward increased flood hazard awareness, it will go a long way toward ensuring that your community receives the new maps positively.

Get Assistance

Answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions are provided for the following user groups: homeowners, engineers, surveyors and architects, insurance professionals and lenders, and floodplain managers.

For additional information or assistance, contact a Map Specialist in the FEMA Map Information eXchange (FMIX) through the following methods:

  • Call 1-877-FEMA MAP (1-877-336-2627), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)
  • Email the FMIX
  • Chat with a Map Specialist, Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (Eastern Time)

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Last Updated: 
12/19/2019 - 09:03