Will the current rules be sufficient? It’s long been recognized that the development criteria of the National Flood Insurance Program are minimums and those minimums may not be adequate for your community or your home or business. Severe floods have led communities to enact higher standards, such as prohibiting residences or other buildings from high hazard areas, requiring a higher level of protection, and zoning areas to limit development to those uses that are compatible with the hazards.
A key higher standard to consider adopting is to treat all areas that were flooded as the regulatory floodplain. That means that if a building was substantially damaged it would have to be protected to the current ordinance protection level or to the recent flood level, whichever is higher. We should not say that we don’t have to regulate an area because it was not mapped by the National Flood Insurance Program. Mother Nature doesn’t read those maps. Instead, we should say that if a property was flooded, we owe it to the owners to help protect them from a recurrence of that flood, even if it is not required by the NFIP.
Higher standards are even more important now that we have recognized that the climate is changing and disasters are becoming more frequent and more severe. We should not build to protect our homes, schools, and neighborhoods from the last flood when we know that future floods will likely be higher.
Each community should review safer alternatives and not rely on minimum nation-wide standards to determine what is adequate to protect future development from their local hazards.
FEMA, by the way, recognizes that higher standards save money, and has several mechanisms to provide lower insurance premiums for properties and communities that use them.
- The National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System provides flood insurance premium credits to communities that adopt higher standards.
- Elevating buildings well above the minimum, base or 100-year flood level, can greatly reduce flood insurance premiums. See the BuildHigher website for more on the benefits of freeboard. Also see FEMA’s Post-Sandy PDF on the benefits of elevating structures.
- The Association of State Floodplain Managers’ No Adverse Impact (NAI) program provides guidance and legal rationale for exceeding national minimums.