DENVER – Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States. Recent years have seen more frequent severe weather events, like Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that provides flood insurance policies that provide millions of Americans their first line of defense against flooding. But those flood insurance policies are only one component of the program and just part of the protection NFIP provides to individuals and the American public at large.
For anyone to be able to purchase an NFIP policy, the only requirement is that they live in a participating community. A participating community can be a town or city or a larger jurisdiction like a township or county that includes unincorporated areas. It is up to the community to opt into the NFIP program for the benefit of its citizens. When joining the program, the community agrees to assess flood risks and to establish floodplain management ordinances. In return for taking these actions, residents are able to purchase federally backed flood insurance policies.
One of the cornerstones of the NFIP is the flood mapping program. FEMA works with states and local communities to conduct studies on flood risks and develop maps that show the level of risk for that area, called a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). The FIRM provides useful information that can assist in communities in planning development. The area that has 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 given year. Because of the greater risk, premiums for flood insurance policies for properties in the SFHA are greater than for those for properties outside of it.
Equally important to knowing the risks of flooding is having a game plan to address those risks. This is role of floodplain management. Local communities must comply with minimum national standards established by FEMA, but are free to develop stricter codes and ordinances should they choose to do so. Key elements of floodplain management include building codes for construction in the floodplain and limitations on development in high risk areas. Floodplain management is an ongoing process, with communities continually reassessing their needs as new data becomes available and the flood risk for areas may change.
The NFIP brings all levels of government together with insurers and private citizens to protect against the threat of flooding. Federally sponsored flood maps and locally developed floodplain regulations give property owners the picture of their risk and ensure building practices are in place to minimize that risk. As a property owner, purchasing a flood insurance policy is a measure you can take to further protect yourself. To find out more about your individual risk contact your local floodplain administrator. For more information on flood insurance policies or to find an agent, visit www.floodsmart.gov or call 1-800-427-2419.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.