5 Ways Municipalities Can Prepare for Floods

FEMA can foot some of the bill for your community’s proactive safety measures.

The next flood could happen tomorrow. The cause might be natural or man-made. They can develop slowly, or overwhelm a community in just minutes. Are you prepared?

Floods rank only behind tornadoes as the top natural disaster for property damage and lost lives. Since 2010, they have cost America almost $40 billion. Here are five ways that municipalities can take proactive steps to reduce flood risks.

 1. Have an emergency action plan

An emergency action plan (EAP) outlines procedures and chains of command during a flood event. It’s created with the participation of county agencies, fire departments, school districts, and other municipal entities. The EAP crafts operating procedures and establishes a central location for management operations during floods.

At the heart of this plan are inundation maps, which indicate the areas in danger during flood events. Emergency planning is focused on these areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides inundation maps for any locale free of charge.

2. Update infrastructure assessments

Are there dams or other manmade structures that have changed the course of water in your municipality? These must be mapped and inspected. Even small stream crossings and culverts present a risk during floods when they are not maintained.

3. Prepare a hazard mitigation plan

Flood protection is a long-term effort. Proactive steps you take today may not show any benefits for years to come, but they are vital. A national study conducted by the Multihazard Mitigation Council determined that every dollar spent on hazard mitigation activities avoids $4 in future damages.

Develop a mitigation plan that maps dangerous areas and outlines the actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of flooding on roads, bridges, and buildings. There is federal funding available for these efforts, but you must have a FEMA-approved mitigation plan in place in order to be eligible for it. At a minimum, mitigation measures must be technically feasible, cost-effective, and environmentally sound.

4. Slow the flow of water off of surface areas

Hard surfaces such as roofs, parking lots, and roads speed water flow. A municipality can reroute this water flow to slow it down and allow it to soak into the soil, or drain appropriately.

  • Reroute or disconnect existing road-drainage systems. Change their discharge to areas where water can flow without causing damage. The ideal solution is to allow it to recharge groundwater.
  • Encourage development of land-catchment practices. Rain gardens, porous pavement, and other “green infrastructure” practices reduce runoff that can collect and cause flooding.

5. Regulate land use within floodplains

Flood insurance rate maps indicate flood hazard areas. Construction in these areas should be discouraged, or at least regulated to ensure that development complies with floodplain development standards.

In most cases, municipalities have already taken these steps to comply with the national Flood Insurance Program so that their residents have access to federally-guaranteed flood insurance. It is still up to these local governments to update and enforce the regulations, especially when FEMA issues updated flood maps. Both residents and municipalities can learn more about the National Flood Insurance Program here.

The federal government’s basic prevention regulations ensure that new structures in floodplains can withstand flooding with only minimal damage. This doesn’t prevent local governments from creating additional restrictions in floodplains to further lessen the risk. There’s an incentive to act on this.

FEMA offers a financial incentive program to municipalities that adopt more stringent policies to reduce flood damage. If communities enact policies and programs to lower flood damage risk, they receive reduced flood insurance rates for landowners within the municipality. You can find out more information about this FEMA program here.

Preparation reduces damage and cost

Flood events such as unexpected storms can overwhelm communities, especially when left to foot the bill for cleanup and repair. Poor preparation can be a costly mistake, and it’s generally avoidable. Nothing can keep a community completely free from the hazard of flooding, but the danger is greatly minimized with preventative planning. The five steps above can move your municipality to safer ground.

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