The passage of the National Flood Insurance Act in 1968 and the establishment of the NFIP marked what can be considered the official shift in the United States from a principal focus on flood control to a focus on flood damage reduction with greater consideration of nonstructural measures and insurance, paired with structural measures, to manage flood risk. The movement toward flood risk management continued and was emphasized, for example, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with the application of tools associated with risk management in other sectors to flood risk management. This movement is changing the manner in which the nation addresses its floodplain management issues and is requiring agencies to make, or begin to make, significant changes in the manner in which they carry out their programs. These changes are seen in FEMA’s management of the NFIP and will be affecting their approach in the years immediately ahead. It is not a question of if, but when, the transition to risk-based approaches will be completed across all relevant parties.
The principal responsibility for NFIP-related actions is assigned by the National Flood Insurance Act to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (originally assigned to the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD). FEMA also has organic authorities to “lead the Nation’s efforts to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the risk of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters, including catastrophic incidents” (Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006). Other federal agencies, states, and local communities are assigned responsibilities by the National Flood Insurance Act and Executive Order 11988 (1977) to support these goals in collaboration with FEMA. The National Flood Insurance Act specifically encourages states and local governments to make appropriate land-use adjustments to reduce the exposure of communities to flooding.
The National Flood Insurance Act also establishes the requirement for the development of a Unified National Program (UNP) for floodplain management. The initial UNP document was created by the Water Resources Council in 1976 and followed by a second in 1979. Updated plans were prepared by an interagency task forces operating under FEMA oversight in 1986 and 1994 and reflected agency consensus. The UNP urged cooperative efforts among the federal government, states, and the private sector as well as within the federal government itself.
Other federal agencies play important roles in managing the nation’s flood risk. Since the early part of the 20th century, USACE has been assigned responsibility under various flood control and water resources development acts for the construction and, in some cases, operation of flood control works. In 2006, USACE, in coordination with FEMA, established the National Flood Risk Management Program in support of an effort to move the nation
from a flood control approach to a flood risk management approach.1 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also have legislated responsibilities that directly or indirectly involve flood risk management.2
State, tribal, and local governments have responsibilities that are also critical to managing the nation’s flood risk in general and behind levees in particular. For example, local and to a lesser degree, state governments control land use and exposure to risk. Local government plays an important role in levee-related risk communication (Chapter 7).
The various roles and responsibilities at all levels highlight the need for a coordinated, national approach that shares responsibility across federal, state, and local government and other entities in managing flood risk. In this chapter, challenges and opportunities related to a shared national strategy for levee-related flood risk and management are explored.
Many federal agencies have responsibilities that involve management of flood risk and levee-related flood risk, in particular. Their roles are dictated by their legislated authorities and responsibilities as well as by presidential guidance. Because of the large number of agencies and complexity of legislation, coordination challenges exist that are manifested in many ways—from ensuring consistency in flood risk communication to compilation of a national levee inventory.
USACE and FEMA: Different Approaches to Levee-Related Risk Analysis
When HUD and FEMA initially began to develop procedural guidelines for levees in the NFIP, they relied heavily on the resources and advice of the USACE. When Title 44, Section 65.10, of the Code of Federal Regulations (44 CFR §65.10) was developed, it included references to USACE technical publications as measures of good practice in engineering. Although the USACE technical approaches have evolved over time, reference to these older documents remain in 44 CFR §65.10.
In 1996, when USACE began to move to a risk-based approach to analysis of flood hydrology and hydraulics and other aspects of flood system integrity determination, FEMA continued with its existing approach. In 2006, the Interagency Levee Policy Review Committee recommended that FEMA shift to a risk-based analysis procedure over the following 10-year period (ILPRC, 2006). In Chapter 3, this report recommends that FEMA move to use of a risk-based levee analysis approach. As noted in Chapter 2, the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act requires coordination between FEMA and USACE in the assessment of levees that exist in both programs: “information and data collected by or for the USACE under the Inspection of Completed Works Program is sufficient to satisfy the flood protection structure accreditation requirements.” Since it appears that approximately 65 percent of NFIP-accredited and PAL levees are also in one of the USACE programs and subject to USACE risk-based inspections, it would not be efficient to establish two separate evaluation methodologies for ensuring the integrity of those levees. If FEMA chooses to continue its present approach for the analysis of other NFIP-accredited levees not in the USACE programs, levee owners and their engineers will be faced with two or more different approaches to analysis of levee integrity and risk.
The technical and programmatic differences between FEMA and USACE as they relate to the evaluation of flood hazards and levee systems have been and continue to be an issue that compromises interagency communica-
2 A Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force, established in 1975, promotes programs and policies that reduce flood losses and protect the environment. See http://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program-1/federal-interagency-floodplain-management-task-force.
tion and causes confusion and frustration in the local communities that work with the agencies and the public that is being served. Furthermore, the benefits of a more modern risk-based approach to assessing risk behind levees have been made clear. Both the complexities of coordinating the programs of multiple government entities and the benefits of conducting risk-based analyses and acquisition of the data needed to conduct these analyses are illustrated in recent events involving the City of Dallas, Texas (Box 8-1). FEMA and USACE should jointly develop a common, risk-based approach to levee assessment in a timely manner and apply this approach to all levees assessed by the two agencies. This includes a joint methodology, procedure, and where feasible, the sharing of models and other risk analysis tools. To achieve this goal, FEMA and USACE could craft a memorandum of understanding. Furthermore, it would be useful for other federal agencies with interest in risk-based assessment of levees and floodwalls to be invited to participate in the process.
Other Coordination Challenges Between FEMA and USACE
When accredited levees are found deficient by either FEMA and/or USACE, levee owners in affected communities attempt to take action to remediate the deficiency. Where the level of protection provided by the levee is acknowledged to be the same by both USACE and FEMA, coordination problems are minimized and the com-
Dallas Levees: Working to Determine the True Risk
The Dallas Levee System in Dallas, Texas, includes over 20 miles of levees that protect downtown Dallas and thousands of citizens against a 0.0125 percent (8,800-year) annual chance flood. In 2009, USACE conducted a periodic inspection of the levee system and informed the city and FEMA that the levees would not performed as designed and rated these levees unacceptable. This jeopardized the city’s levee system accreditation status and FEMA began to remap the areas behind the levees, designating them as being in the Special Flood Hazard Area.
In response, the City of Dallas spent more than $25 million dollars studying the integrity of the levee system and devising a plan to remediate known deficiencies in the levee system. The city also completed an Emergency Action Plan and identified 150 million dollars of levee improvements and began to correct 198 maintenance deficiencies previously identified in the system and those identified by the city’s engineering study.
Given the potential consequences of levee deaccreditation and in keeping with an agencywide effort to conduct risk-based analyses, USACE applied a new risk assessment process to the Dallas levee system. After an intensive study of the levees, made possible in part by the engineering investigations funded by the City of Dallas, USACE concluded that:
• The frequency of major floods was rarer than had been originally determined. A flood event that could overtop the levees was rated at 0.01 to 0.02 percent annual chance (1,000-year to 5,000-year).
• The duration of floods that might occur is much shorter than once thought. Peak flooding lasts hours and days, not months. As a result, the levees would be less likely to become saturated and fail.
• While levee slope slides have occurred over the years, the detailed analysis indicates that “these slides do not represent an unacceptable risk” (USACE, 2012).
The City of Dallas is continuing efforts to remediate levee deficiencies; however, as a result of USACE’s modern risk analysis approach, the extent and cost to the city of remediation will be decreased. The City of Dallas expects to complete repairs in 2013 and intends to submit levee certification to FEMA so that the remapping of the area behind the levees reflects the new conditions and supports accreditation. The city plans to work with USACE to remove the unacceptable rating under the USACE periodic inspection program.
munity can attempt to remediate against a common standard. When, on the other hand, the levee was built by USACE to a higher standard than was necessary for entry into the NFIP, USACE may require the levee owner to remediate the deficiency not to the NFIP base flood elevation but to the original level of protection provided by USACE. When the community can only find resources to accomplish the mitigation to the lower level, USACE may determine that it will not permit work to move forward because that work would not bring the levee into USACE compliance and might make it more difficult to eventually achieve the higher USACE standard (Box 5-7).
Another potential issue arises when an accredited levee (granting the areas behind the levee exemption from the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement), owned and maintained by USACE, is no longer certified by USACE. USACE may not permit local governments to accomplish the remediation, leaving the local governments with no way to bring the levees back to an accredited status.
In both of these cases, the agencies are operating within their regulatory authorities. However, the community is caught in the middle and faces the consequences. The utility of a joint FEMA-USACE procedure allowing quick attention to levee-related situations where regulatory authority creates intractable situations for the affected community is clear.
Levee Construction and Repair
The 1994 Interagency Floodplain Management Review Committee (IFMRC) report on the 1993 Mississippi River flood identified that federal agencies other than USACE were providing funds to communities to build or reconstruct damaged levees following flood events (e.g., the HUD and the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration). The IFMRC report recommended that having multiple agencies fund the construction or reconstruction of such levees created challenges later. If not built to certification standards, the levee would not be accredited or possibly ineligible for participation in the Flood Control and Coastal Emergency Act (P.L. 84-99) program despite the fact that it was built by a federal agency. As a solution, the IFMRC report recommended that USACE be designated as the federal agency responsible for the oversight and construction of levees by federal agencies. The consolidation of construction responsibility for levees that receive federal funding promotes consistent construction outcomes that align with USACE and FEMA standards.
A National Levee Inventory
Currently, the location and condition of levees in the United States is unclear—where they are, what they are protecting (assets and lives), and their condition (Chapter 6). This represents a significant gap in addressing the challenge of flood risk management behind levees: How can the problem be addressed if the extent and location of the problem is unclear?
Although the long-term plan of both USACE and FEMA is to develop a single database for covering the levees that operate under the oversight of the two agencies, this consolidation effort, which was initially recommended in the 2006 National Levee Policy Study, is proceeding slowly because of resource constraints (FEMA, 2006). The National Levee Database (NLD) operated by USACE, which will be the eventual single database, is limited in information concerning NFIP and other non-USACE levee systems. Eventually USACE may be able to bring into the database information about state, local, and individually operated levees that do not fall into either of the federal agency programs. However, at present, there is a significant need for completion of the consolidation of the federal levee inventories so that levees in the two federal programs can be identified and overlaps eliminated. The maintenance today of two databases is inefficient and creates a potential for disinformation at times when information about levees is badly needed.
The transfer of information about levees that are not part of the NFIP but are a part of FEMA’s MLI database into USACE’s National Levee Database is needed. (As indicated in Chapter 7, in areas covered by its Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), FEMA has identified approximately 29,800 miles of levees, only 5,100 of which are part of the NFIP.) These non-NFIP levees, along with several thousand other levees may eventually be entered into the database. The addition of these nonfederal program levees will require the close cooperation of the states and local entities.
In 2006 the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) and the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA) jointly sponsored a National Flood Risk Summit, convening federal, state, and local flood experts and selected members of the public at Wye Island, Maryland. Flood risk communication was a key topic during discussions. The principal challenge identified regarding risk communication was the multiplicity of uncoordinated messages developed and communicated by federal agencies. The collective opinion of those in the Wye Island meeting was the need for increased coordination of this messaging. Discussion with relevant stakeholders during information-gathering efforts of this committee corroborate this opinion and indicate that the problem continues to exist.
Given the multiple entities that have either regulatory authority or considerable interest in levees, it is no surprise that inconsistent messaging from multiple sources exists and leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Inconsistent messaging is directly related to the lack of collaboration and coordination among entities in communicating risk to local stakeholders. Inconsistent messaging can involve definitions, for example, what defines a levee, what the appropriate definition of risk is, and concepts such as the reality of residual risk behind a levee. Simplicity of messaging is also important in communicating risk (Paveglio et al., 2009; Ballard et al., 2012) and becomes a challenge in the case of, for example, communicating an explanation of the one percent annual chance flood.
Flood inundation and other specialty maps for flood-prone areas are being prepared by multiple agencies to cover the same land area (FEMA, NRCS, FWS, USGS, USACE, and NOAA). Some of the overlap among these maps is a result of research and development activities being conducted by the agencies. In other cases, the overlap results from the necessity of supporting an agency mission. Furthermore, other messaging products prepared by federal agencies addressing the challenge of floodplain management or flood risk reduction are not always coordinated with a consistent message (Chapter 7). There is no one agency that has the responsibility to provide oversight and coordination of federal flood risk mapping products and other communication products. Similarly, there is little to no coordination of the collection of underlying data, such as with Lidar, by these agencies.
The utility of levee-related flood risk communication developed and presented at the federal level is challenged by uncoordinated messaging. One federal message using consistent terminology, transparent data, and open discussion and decisions about the determination of flood risk is critical to inform the affected communities who, in turn, communicate and manage risk at the local level. FEMA should assume a leadership role in providing direction for research, development, and release of flood risk communication products and maps. This role might include FEMA constituting a central leadership group or some type of coordinating body.
FEMA should communicate flood risk through a collaborative approach that works with and provides strong support to local communities. This additional emphasis entails local involvement (from individuals, communities, and states) in all phases of the risk communication process. This requires that FEMA interact with preestablished collaborative decision-making networks at the local level. Success lies in providing risk information to the local level where local governments and citizens have the responsibility to drive behavioral changes to reduce risk.
USACE and FEMA share responsibility for oversight of the conditions of levees that are part of both programs and ensuring that the integrity of the structures means necessary standards to ensure the safety of those behind levees. It has been difficult for FEMA and USACE to develop a comprehensive approach to reducing flood damages across the nation, and in the case of levees, to ensure that levees are given proper oversight by those responsible for them, the levee owners, and operators. However, promising coordination efforts between the two agencies exist, including three joint “task force” initiatives that promote better interagency cooperation and collaboration, including improving the results of levee-related activities in both agencies, and better aligning data collected in USACE levee inspection with requirements for accreditation purposes (FEMA, 2012a,b). This collaboration permits FEMA and USACE to work together to deal with joint challenges such as development of policies for vegetation on levees (USACE, 2009).
In most cases, states play a minimal role in dealing with the flood challenges facing communities in their states. Less than five states have inventories of the levees within their boundaries.3 Few states have permitting or land-use regulations governing the construction of levees. Even though the National Flood Insurance Act strongly encouraged state participation in the program in support of its goals, most states defer action to FEMA and their communities. State-focused nongovernmental organizations such as the ASFPM and NAFSMA play a critical role in promoting the shared responsibility of the states.
Since flooding does not fall neatly into geographical borders, “communities” cannot be defined solely by jurisdictional boundaries (NRC, 2011). Regional bodies conducting risk communication to achieve common commitment to sustainable mitigation, can play an important role. For example, the cooperative decision-making frameworks built by metropolitan planning organizations4 have been in place for several decades, and many have built networks of trust and credibility in communities.
The last Unified National Program for Floodplain Management was published by the Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force in 1994. It identified, as did the 1994 Sharing the Challenge report on the 1993 Mississippi River floods (IFMRC, 1994), the need for action by the federal government to bring together all parties involved in development and implementation of national floodplain management programs to better define the responsibilities of each group and to develop a roadmap dealing with these challenges in the future. No action has been taken on recommendations of either effort.
The Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force is a useful vehicle to promote the need for better definition of the shared responsibilities for floodplain management among all the parties.
Individuals and communities also share in the responsibility for taking those steps necessary to manage flood risks. The deaccreditation of thousands of miles of NFIP and USACE levees in the wake of map modernization indicates that community leaders were not monitoring the condition of the structures protecting their communities and not understanding their responsibility for ensuring that these levee systems were meeting accreditation requirements. However, it is reasonable to conclude that the deaccreditation of levees has countered this notion in NFIP communities around the nation. Use of modern risk methodology will provide more accurate information on risks, especially behind levees, information that will be useful at the community level. Communication of the flood risk behind levees can be most effectively accomplished by local governments (Chapter 7), but will require the active engagement of these officials, not only for the actual communication of the risk messages, but also for the implementation of land-use and building code regulations needed to deal with the residual risks that will be described by the use of new risk-based tools. Once properly informed by local governments of the risks they face behind levees, the property owners are responsible for the actions necessary to physically mitigate potential losses and transfer risk, for example, through the use of risk-based insurance.
This report provides advice on the current treatment of levees within the NFIP (Box 8-2). Key to this advice is the transition of FEMA to a modern, risk-based approach to flood risk analysis. This transition will, no doubt, be challenging. New or revised regulations, procedures, and training systems will need to be established, and clear, consistent messaging to those affected by the new procedures is critical. Legal challenges, as there are today, will most likely arise. The appropriate balance between public and private investment will continually be considered.
Despite these challenges, it is clear that a national move toward floodplain management anchored in a modern risk-based analysis is imperative. This is increasingly recognized in the floodplain management community and
3 This statement is based on information in the Interagency Levee Policy Review Committee report (ILPRC, 2006) and inquiries to states during committee deliberations.
4 Metro areas with a population of more than 50,000 are required by federal law (23 U.S.C. §134, Metropolitan transportation planning) to establish a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) to represent local, regional, and national interests in the transportation planning process (AMPO, 2009). The nation’s 385 MPOs represent areas ranging from 50,000 to 19 million people totaling roughly 84 percent of the population, and with about half administered by a regional council (AMPO, 2009). MPOs are governed by democratically elected officials accountable to local and regional constituencies. These regional leaders and the staffs of the MPOs routinely work with representatives and officials responsible for other planning activities including land use, economic development, environmental protection, and more (AMPO, 2009).
Improving NFIP Policies and Practices: Conclusions and Recommendations
The committee identified multiple conclusions and recommendations to improve the policies and practices of the treatment of levees within FEMA’s NFIP, spanning risk analysis, flood insurance, risk reduction, and risk communication. Advice falls within the central theme of the report—the need for a national move to flood risk management. Conclusions and recommendations are found throughout the report and consolidated here.
Recommendations to improve NFIP’s flood risk analysis, the analytical piece of flood risk management, including advice on FEMA’s Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedure, include:
• Recommendation 1: The NFIP should move to a modern risk analysis that makes use of modern methods and computational mapping capacity to produce state-of-the-art risk estimates for all areas that are vulnerable to flooding.
• Recommendation 2: FEMA should move directly to a modern risk-based analysis for dealing with areas behind levees and not implement the Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedure (LAMP).
Should the decision be made not to implement LAMP, Chapter 4 contains recommendations to pursue interim steps pending development and completion of a modern risk-based analysis.
Conclusions and recommendations related to flood insurance including flood insurance pricing behind levees and the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement, both in the context of a modern-risk based analysis, include:
• Conclusion 1: The method used to calculate the average historical loss year ensures that in the long run there will be inadequate premiums collected to cover costs in significant flood years.
• Conclusion 2: The NFIP is constructed using an actuarially sound formulaic approach for the full-risk classes of policies, but is financially unsound in the aggregate because of constraints (i.e., legislative mandates) that go beyond actuarial considerations.
• Recommendation 3: Rate setting for properties behind levees, accredited or not accredited, should be improved by using the modern risk analysis method employing advances in hydrology, meteorology, and geotechnical engineering to more precisely calculate the probability of water inundation levels and the associated damage estimates throughout the area behind the levee in a graduated fashion.
• Recommendation 4: To the extent possible to better achieve fiscal soundness, the properties that have been grandfathered into the NFIP or that receive discounts due to statutory considerations should have their pricing moved to the actuarially based prices using the detailed probability-of-inundation estimates and detailed economic damage models.
• Conclusion 3: The current policy of mandatory flood insurance purchase appears to be ineffective in achieving widespread purchase of NFIP flood insurance policies.
• Conclusion 4: The rate of compliance with the mandatory purchase requirement indicates challenges with lender enforcement and federal oversight of this lending.
• Conclusion 5: Mandatory purchase requirements have led many property owners to perceive that if they are not mandated to have insurance, then they are not susceptible to damage from floods.
• Conclusion 6: At this time, there is no sound reason to institute mandatory purchase of flood insurance in areas behind accredited levees.
• Conclusion 7: A modern risk-based analysis has the potential to impact the purchase of flood insurance, diversify the NFIP’s exposure to flood risk, and generate a more fiscally sound program.
• Recommendation 5: Once the risk-based approach has been put in place and matures, FEMA should review and study the necessity of the mandatory purchase requirement, behind levees and throughout the Special Flood Hazard Areas.
Conclusions and recommendations related to implementing flood risk management strategies, exploring all available structural, nonstructural, and risk transfer mechanisms such as insurance, include:
• Conclusion 8: There is a clear need for a comprehensive, tailored approach to risk management behind levees that (1) is designed and implemented at the local level; (2) involves federal and state agencies, communities, and households; (3) takes into account possible future conditions; and (4) relies on an effective portfolio of structural measures, nonstructural measures, and insurance to reduce the risk to those behind levees.
• Recommendation 6: To reduce the flood risk to those behind levees, FEMA should encourage communities to develop and implement multimeasure risk management strategies for areas behind accredited levees.
Recommendations related to understanding and communicating flood risk behind levees, an integral part of flood risk management, include:
• Recommendation 7: FEMA and others involved in risk communication at all levels should incorporate contemporary risk communication principles in the development of flood risk communication strategies and implementation efforts.
• Recommendation 8: FEMA should support evaluation of the success of risk communication efforts, including at the community level when appropriate, that are informed by appropriate assessment tools such as baseline information and predefined metrics.
Moving to flood risk management is a shared responsibility at all levels: federal, state, and local government, private citizens, communities, and all other entities dealing with flood risk. Related conclusions and recommendations include:
• Recommendation 9: FEMA and USACE should jointly develop a common, risk-based approach to levee assessment in a timely manner and apply this approach to all levees assessed by the two agencies. This includes a joint methodology, procedure, and where feasible, the sharing of models and other risk analysis tools.
• Conclusion 9: One federal message using consistent terminology, transparent data, and open discussion and decisions about the determination of flood risk is critical to inform the affected communities who, in turn, communicate and manage risk at the local level.
• Recommendation 10: FEMA should assume a leadership role in providing direction for research, development, and release of flood risk communication products and maps.
• Recommendation 11: FEMA should communicate flood risk through a collaborative approach that works with and provides strong support to local communities.
• Conclusion 10: The Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force (FIFMTF) is a useful vehicle to promote the need for better definition of the shared responsibilities for floodplain management among all the parties.
is well illustrated by USACE. Indeed, FEMA can learn from the experience of USACE in moving to a modern risk-based analytical approach. Specifically, USACE has converted its hydrologic and hydraulic analyses to a risk-based approach and instituted a nationwide risk management program to provide risk-based evaluations of levees as part of USACE’s periodic inspection programs. In the NFIP, some analyses will be carried out by private engineering firms, many of which are already involved with USACE implementation of these new approaches.
The intersection between FEMA and USACE is only one piece of the necessary collaborative and coordinated approach to levee-related flood risk. Currently, these efforts at all levels are not as robust as they could be. Increased coordination and cooperation among and between governmental agencies, state and local entities as well as the public at large, would result in increased effectiveness of the NFIP, improved efficiency within the NFIP, and improve the nation’s approach to floodplain management and treatment of levees. Promising developments do exist, as discussed above, but, more progress is necessary. A coordinated, national approach that shares responsibility across federal, state, and local entities is necessary to appropriately manage the nation’s flood risk behind levees.
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