Sunday, August 22, 2010

US towns react to flood hazard maps

Stephanie Samuel in Disaster News Network: In the last 10 years, flooding has become America’s most expensive natural disaster. Floods like those that drowned much of Louisiana in 2005 have cost Americans $2.39 billion in losses a year. In an attempt to take a proactive approach, Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are attempting to update the nation’s flood maps using new digital technology to mark flood plains and area susceptible to flooding, otherwise known as high-risk zones.

“Flood hazards are constantly changing due to natural as well as man-made factors and, as with any measurement, additional information can improve the product,” FEMA Spokesman Brad Carroll said in reference to the project.

However, as the flood plain maps change, so too do the Flood Insurance Rating Maps, the maps insurance agents use to calculate property owners’ policy rates. New high-risk areas, made prevalent thanks to urban development and erosion, could mean higher insurance rates for property owners previous zoned as low-risk areas. It can also mean some business owners may have to squash plans for development projects, since FEMA places development restrictions on flood plains.

….However, FEMA officials and private environmental mapping experts disagree on what should be the standard method of computer imaging. According to Robert Gerber, an environmental engineer at Sebago Technics, FEMA officials are using a simplified model to create its revised maps. “When you use the simpler methods, you have to make simplified, summative assumptions,” Gerber said.

…Despite cost, communities are flocking to private contractors like Gerber for a second opinion. Kennebunk and six other southern Maine towns, including Portland and South Portland, pooled their resources to contract Gerber to survey their communities. Those town officials are now using the information they received to appeal FEMA’s maps….

Sabine Pass, TX, USA, September 14, 2008 -- FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Indiana Task Force 1 conducts searches in neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Ike. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

No comments: