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Living with Levees: Ideas for Effective Outreach

This page provides community officials with information regarding how the condition of a levee system and the resulting flood risk can change over time and how to effectively communicate the implications of these changes through various outreach programs and activities. Information is provided for outreach activities with the media, local industries, residents, and other key stakeholders.

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Community Officials: Levee Impacted Mapping Changes - Ideas for Effective Outreach

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

The Community Officials Levee Outreach webpages provide many of the essential materials for you to begin communicating with a variety of different audiences about the condition of a 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 keep the overall approach to community outreach on target and facilitate a successful NFIP mapping project.

Start Early

Outreach activities should begin several months prior to the release of preliminary NFIP maps (or issued Letters of Map Revision (LOMRs)) that are likely to include changes to flood hazard information and flood hazards within levee-impacted areas. Getting started on outreach efforts as early as possible will allow you to identify and address key issues and obstacles, as well as securing the broad-based support needed before new NFIP maps are rolled out.

Proactive Media Engagement

Local and regional media outlets will be interested in this issue and will want to know how the NFIP map and levee impacted flood hazards will affect stakeholders. Providing the press with access and easily digestible information before the new maps are released will help ensure that they have a solid understanding of the process. Holding media pre-briefings and making presentations to newspaper editorial boards prior to the release of new maps will allow reporters and editors to delve into key issues and ask important questions that will help them to cover the map release 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. Materials should include local data on recent flooding, numbers of flood insurance claims, NFIP map update schedules, recent levee improvements, and other “hard” information. While this local data is important, it is also helpful to provide context about why these numbers are important and how they impact 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 flood risks near levees. Even if a property is not shown in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), it is important to convey the importance of insurance to reduce financial risk. The updated information also helps guide builders and developers to make structures less flood prone. 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 to 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 before NFIP maps to become effective, and it is important to set expectations for 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 the impact it had – putting a face and factual narrative to flooding can help your message be stronger.
  • 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, and 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 will 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 who need them most. Consider forming, and regularly convening, a stakeholder advisory group that includes representatives of key industries to 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 risks - as well as cost-saving options for flood risk reduction

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 when it comes to 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 financial burden of repairs or rebuilding if a flood strikes. Providing the public with messages and materials that stress both the risks and the cost-saving flood 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 an important key to successful community engagement. It is critical to address any misconceptions, and answer tough questions upfront, in addition to finding 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 open houses or town hall meetings with the public gives residents and business owners an opportunity to raise issues and concerns in a friendly, educational setting. It also gives you an opportunity to proactively provide answers. Similarly, convening regular stakeholder advisory group meetings allows you to update and recruit new partners and discuss messages and materials that ensure the outreach is robust, organized, and effective.

Engage Key Decision Makers Early and Often

As local elected 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 any potential complaints from concerned residents. Your ability to communicate key map change messages and to foster a better understanding of possible options available to residents and businesses will help defuse many potential problems. As a result, it is critical that you clearly understand the NFIP change process and flood insurance implications. If you recognize new maps as a positive step toward increased flood hazard awareness, it will go a long way toward ensuring that the new maps are received 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, 8:00 am through 6:30 pm (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: 
05/23/2019 - 08:44