DENVER – Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States. Heavy rains have already caused flooding in the Southeast this year. Last fall saw rivers overflowing in the Dakotas. And the upcoming snowmelt means we could see a wet spring.
FEMA manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help people recover after a flood. Flood insurance provide millions of Americans their first line of defense against flooding. But flood insurance policies are only one piece of the NFIP puzzle. They just happen to be a very visible piece.
The only requirement to buy an NFIP policy is to live in a participating community. A community joins the program to benefit its citizens. After joining, it agrees to assess local flood risks.It must also pass and enforce floodplain management ordinances. In return for taking these actions that help minimize risk, residents can purchase flood insurance policies.
Flood mapping is a major part of the NFIP. FEMA works with states and local communities to conduct studies on flood risks.The studies are used to develop maps that show the level of risk for an area, called a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). The FIRM provides useful information that can help communities plan development. The area with the highest risk of flooding is the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), commonly called the floodplain. The SFHA has a one percent chance of being flooded in any year. Flood insurance costs more for properties in the SFHA than in lower risk areas.
Knowing your flood risk is great. But having a plan to deal with it is even better. This is the role of floodplain management. Local communities must comply with minimum national standards established by FEMA but can adopt stricter ones if they choose. They can set up building codes for construction in the floodplain and limit development in high risk areas. Floodplain management is an ongoing process. Communities continue to assess their needs as new data becomes available. Flood risk is always changing.
Flood mapping, floodplain management and flood insurance. The NFIP provides these three vital tools to help individuals and communities face the threat of flooding. To find out about your own risk contact your local floodplain administrator. To learn more about flood insurance policies or find an agent, visit floodsmart.gov or call (800) 427-4661.