Federal Program Summaries

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

The National Flood Insurance Program was established through the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968. The NFIP is administered at the state level by the state NFIP coordinator and at the community level by the local floodplain manager. The basic function of the program is to provide flood insurance to property owners in participating communities provided that the community adopts floodplain management standards that are consistent with NFIP regulations. The NFIP floodplain management regulations center around the concept of a base flood elevation (BFE), the flood elevation reached during a flood event with a 1% annual chance of occurring. Areas that are projected to flood during the 1% annual chance flood event constitute the special flood hazard area (SFHA).

All property owners with federally backed mortgages on structures located within the SFHA are required to purchase flood insurance, and any new construction or substantial improvement (representing 50% of property value) to existing properties within the SFHA requires that the structure be elevated to a height matching the BFE. In the event of substantial damage to a property, increased cost of compliance (ICC) coverage may be available to help bring a property into compliance with any new floodplain management regulations. ICC coverage can also be used on a community level to help meet floodplain management standards when filed as a single claim as part of a FEMA mitigation grant.

Flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) form the basis of NFIP floodplain management regulations in participating communities. These maps, overseen by a Technical Mapping Advisory Council (TMAC), determine the extent of the SFHA and also delineate other moderate and low-risk flood hazard zones. A distinction is made between structures constructed before (pre-FIRM) and after (post-FIRM) FIRM publication when setting flood insurance premiums. A structure that is newly mapped into the SFHA, whether as a result of initial FIRM publication or FIRM updates, may be eligible for initially reduced premiums. FIRMs also take into account levees that may afford flood protection to communities. Property owners are exempt from flood insurance purchase requirements if FEMA certifies that a levee provides adequate protection from the 1% annual chance flood event, as the area protected by the levee is no longer included within the SFHA. A property owner is able to request revisions to a FIRM through a letter of map amendment (LOMA), and a FIRM may also be formally altered through a letter of map revision (LOMR).


  • The NFIP can act as a catalyst for establishing floodplain management practices within coastal communities by providing the financial incentive of federally backed flood insurance and publishing flood risk information through FIRMs.
  • Successful implementation of the program relies on coordination between federal, state, and local agencies. This platform for collaboration across multiple levels of government can be leveraged to address vertical integration issues in future coastal flood risk management efforts.
  • Premiums collected through the NFIP represent a step forward in addressing cost-distribution for disaster recovery and mitigation, reducing the reliance on federal disaster recovery funds and increasing responsibility of communities in managing coastal flood risk.


  • While the NFIP has encouraged adoption of floodplain management practices in coastal areas, if flood insurance premiums do not represent the full risk associated with coastal flood events the NFIP can unintentionally serve as a federal subsidy to coastal development. Although movement has been made toward full-risk rates, reduced rates remain in place for many policyholders.
  • FIRMs do not take into account projected future conditions due to changing coastal hazards and climate. Owners of structures not initially mapped into the SFHA lack incentives for purchase of flood insurance although there may be substantial risk over the projected lifetime of the property, especially with regard to the residual risk involved with structures located behind levees.
  • The NFIP is narrowly focused on coastal flood risk in terms of base flood elevations and SFHAs, leading to potential conflicts if the program is implemented without regard to other federal and state regulations, notably with the Endangered Species Act in recent years.

Community Rating System (CRS)

The Community Rating System, enacted in 1990 and formally codified in the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994, is a program within the NFIP designed to provide incentives for communities to adopt floodplain management practices beyond the minimum requirements of the NFIP in order to reduce risk of flood and erosion damages, encourage protection of natural and beneficial floodplain functions, and reduce federal flood insurance losses. The program functions by providing credits to communities for designated floodplain management activities. Credits gained from multiple activities are pooled to give the community a ranking from 9-1, and NFIP policyholders within the community then receive insurance premium reductions based on the community rating. CRS activity categories include public information, mapping and regulation, flood damage reduction, and flood preparation. The majority of management activities communities can use to earn credits employ a non-structural flood risk management approach, including a large credit for management practices that preserve open space along coastlines and rivers.


  • The CRS program encourages state and community engagement and responsibility in the management of coastal flood risk, increasing state capacity through reduced reliance on federal minimum standards and disaster recovery programs.
  • The framework of the program encourages cooperation and communication between federal, state, and community agencies involved in flood risk management, which could be leveraged for current or future environmental management programs as CRS activities may have benefits beyond reducing flood risk.
  • Activities that address planning for changing climate and sea level rise are eligible for credit under the program.


  • The narrow incentive of reduced flood insurance premiums has the potential to increase emphasis on flood insurance compliance rather that sound coastal flood risk management as a whole, as CRS participation is not incentivized through any other federal programs.
  • Capacity for implementation at the community level varies by state depending on the size and resources of coastal communities, limiting potential participation where localities lack sufficient resources to complete the application process.
  • While the CRS program can encourage mitigation at the community level, it may reduce incentives to mitigate individual structures or remove structures from the floodplain if high-risk structures become cross-subsidized by other policyholders.

FEMA Floodplain Mapping

Map Mod, a flood map modernization initiative, and the Risk Mapping Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) program represent previous FEMA efforts to improve and update flood maps across the nation. The Map Mod program took place from 2003 to 2008 and transitioned flood mapping from paper to a digital format consistent with GIS standards. The program employed a collaborative process that allowed for participation from state, regional, and local partners, taking advantage of revised data and updated technology for identifying flood hazards and establishing the Mapping Information Platform to share data.

The Risk MAP program continued the task of providing updated flood information and tools to communities, integrating data from the Map Mod program with hazard data from other federal agencies. The program took on projects in collaboration with federal, state, tribal, or local partners with the goal of filling existing gaps in data, improving public knowledge of risk, providing a coordinating platform for risk planning, increasing digital data sharing, and improving risk communication and decision making. Products of the program address areas such as project prioritization, elevation data acquisition, development of a watershed study approach, and mitigation planning support, each of which goes beyond the scope of the traditional FIRM.

National Flood Insurance Program reforms in 2014 authorized the most recent FEMA floodplain mapping initiative, the National Flood Mapping Program (NFMP). The NFMP has since recommended updates to FEMA mapping practices such as incorporating future conditions due to watershed development and increased coastal hazards as a result of storm intensification and sea-level rise.


  • The emphasis on a watershed approach to management is a step forward in reaching a more holistic coastal flood risk management framework.
  • Partnerships formed at the local scale encourage buy-in and increase mapping capabilities at scales relevant to coastal flood risk management.


  • Federal mapping efforts continue to focus on current flood hazard conditions and do not include projections of future coastal hazards and flood risk due to changing conditions.

National Dam Safety Program (NDSP)

The National Dam Safety Program, established in the 1996 Dam Safety Act, consists of a partnership of federal agencies, states, and stakeholders whose goal is to reduce risks to life, property, and the environment that result from dam failures. The function of the federal aspect of this program is to support states in the development and maintenance of dam safety programs. Federal agencies provide support to state dam safety programs t by addressing dam safety information needs, providing dam safety training, conducting dam safety research, and providing grant assistance to states. A common objective seen throughout the program is the development and enhancement of technology-based tools. Both the National Dam Safety Review Board and the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety coordinate program partnerships across agencies.

The 2016 Water Resources Development Act authorized a dam safety program similar to the USACE Levee Safety Program. The act also charged FEMA with setting up a National Dam Safety Committee to set the standards for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance in a similar manner to the corresponding levee program. While this represents an important step forward, opportunities remain to achieve full implementation of the initiative.


  • The program emphasizes increasing state capacity for ensuring safe operation of dams and serves primarily as a means of assistance to reach this goal rather than a federal replacement for state responsibilities.


  • The program has a narrow focus on the safety of existing dams and so may overlook opportunities for integration with broader coastal flood risk management initiatives, such as grant assistance being used to rebuild a failed dam without consideration of future flood risk mitigation planning.

Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA)

FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs, authorized through the Stafford Disaster Relief Act, are designed to reduce both long-term risk to individuals and property from natural disasters and dependence on federal disaster recovery funds. Mitigation assistance is divided between the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Pre-Disaster Mitigation Assistance (PDM) program. FEMA also operates the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) program, which is funded through flood insurance policy premiums. These HMA programs are specifically dedicated to addressing the cycle of repeated damage that can occur when property is reconstructed after a disaster without consideration of current and future risk. Recent changes to HMA program guidance have emphasized community resilience and climate change adaptation, including strategies on how best to incorporate rising sea level into benefit-cost analyses, encourage acquisition of properties along riparian barriers, and prepare for changes in future flood risk. HMA funds can be used to support a variety of eligible activities across the three programs such as property acquisition and relocation, structure elevation, floodproofing, structural and non-structural retrofitting, and building code enforcement.

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program addresses recovery efforts after disaster declarations, providing the opportunity for mitigation measures to be employed during the reconstruction process to guard against future disasters. Funding is made available after Presidential disaster declarations and is provided to areas identified by the state Governor. Both state and local mitigation plans must be in place to receive grant funds, which can cover up to 75% of eligible activity costs. HMGP also makes funds available through its 5 Percent Initiative, in which up to 5 percent of the total funds awarded through the program may be used for activities that struggle to meet traditional cost-effectiveness criteria such as education and outreach campaigns or hazard identification and mapping.

Pre-Disaster Mitigation grants are offered on a competitive basis and do not depend upon Presidential disaster declarations. The program assists grantees in implementing sustained pre-disaster mitigation programs through eligible activities under HMA in order to reduce long-term risk. Grants are available as planning grants, project grants, and management cost grants. Funding for the PDM program is dependent upon Congressional appropriations, and funding levels may vary between fiscal years. Similar to HMGP grants, PDM grants require a 75/25 federal/non-federal cost share, although tribal or impoverished community recipients may be eligible for up to a 90/10 cost share.

The Flood Mitigation Assistance program, authorized through the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, has a more focused intent of reducing or eliminating claims made under the NFIP by providing assistance to state agencies, tribal governments, and local communities in implementing mitigation measures that reduce long-term risk of flood damage. Planning, project, and management cost grants are again available, and funds are distributed through an allocation formula to states based on total number of NFIP policies as well as repetitive loss properties. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 defines repetitive loss properties for FMA as properties covered by insurance under the NFIP that have incurred damage resulting in claims of 25 percent of property value on two or more occasions. Severe repetitive loss properties involve four or more separate claims each exceeding $5,000, or two claims for which the cumulative amount exceeds the market value of the insured structure. FMA uses a 75/25 federal/non-federal cost share for eligible activities, but repetitive loss properties are eligible for a greater federal contribution if a community has a mitigation plan that address repetitive loss properties. In such cases FMA grants may cover up to 100 percent of mitigation costs for severe repetitive loss properties.


  • HMA programs encourage and provide guidance on incorporation of future risks due to changing climate and rising sea level, consistent with the long-term scope of mitigation activities.
  • Eligible activities under the HMA programs include many non-structural measures and allow for incorporation of the value of open space.
  • The Pre-Disaster Mitigation program, as well as the other HMA programs, provides an opportunity for collaboration with other federal agencies such as Housing and Urban Development to further initiatives with similar goals.
  • Adjustment of cost-shares for repetitive loss properties removes barriers to addressing high-risk areas and alleviates continued federal program financial burdens.


  • Mitigation activities across the HMA programs generally focus on impacts to individual structures. This scope could be broadened to a system-wide mitigation approach to prevent future damage across coastal communities.
  • Guidance for the HMA programs identifies additional benefits from riparian open spaces to be included in benefit-cost analyses, but does not do the same for coastal areas that also provide numerous ecological services to communities.

Public Assistance (PA)

The basic function of the Public Assistance program, authorized through the Stafford Disaster Relief Act, is to provide financial assistance to states, local governments, tribal governments, and select non-profit organizations in order to assist in timely recovery from disasters when recovery efforts exceed state and local capabilities. Following a Presidential disaster declaration, FEMA designates an eligible area, specifies types of assistance to be provided, and enters into an agreement with the applicable state, territorial, or tribal government. State and federal coordinating officers then carry out disaster recovery efforts. Administrators are given significant flexibility in spending PA funds but must maintain compliance with federal environmental laws, policies, and guidelines. Grant assistance can be used for recovery activities such as debris removal and restoration of publicly owned facilities as well as hazard mitigation measures provided that cost-effectiveness requirements are met. PA can also provide mitigation assistance, commonly known as “406 mitigation” in reference to the location of the measure within the Stafford Act. Federal cost share for PA projects may be no lower than 75 percent of eligible costs and may be increased up to 90 percent if warranted.


  • The PA program involves significant coordination between federal, state, and local governments to ensure that grant projects are compatible with existing environmental regulations including EO 11988.
  • PA mitigation funds provide an opportunity to leverage post-disaster recovery efforts to mitigate future coastal flood risk.


  • Mitigation could be further emphasized within the program in order to increase state and local community capacity to recover from future disasters. Mitigation projects typically take greater effort to formulate and implement than general disaster recovery projects, and cost-effectiveness requirements can provide barriers to the use of mitigation grant funds.
  • Public Assistance funds for flood recovery are still available to communities that do not participate in the NFIP, even though individuals within those communities are ineligible for assistance, reducing the incentive for a community to participate in the NFIP.
  • Public Assistance funds are often spent quickly, as a performance metric for the program is how quickly funds are utilized. Because of this, opportunities to mitigate structures against future risk may be missed during rebuilding efforts.

Individuals and Households Program (IHP)

The Individuals and Households Program falls under FEMA’s broader Individual Assistance program, which operates in a similar manner to the PA program but provides assistance to individual property owners and households following disaster events instead of public entities. IHP assistance falls into two categories: housing assistance and other needs assistance. Housing assistance is provided through temporary housing, housing repair, housing replacement, and semi-permanent or permanent housing construction. If repair, replacement, or construction takes place within a Special Flood Hazard Area the applicant must comply with flood insurance purchase requirements and all local building codes related to floodplain management. Other needs assistance covers a variety of activities such as clean up, moving, and storage, and can also include the cost of a NFIP group flood insurance policy to meet requirements. FEMA covers the full cost of housing assistance under IHP, while other needs assistance is subject to a 75/25 federal/non-federal cost share.


  • The flood insurance purchase requirements within IHP help to protect federal investments and can increase participation in the NFIP following disaster events.


  • Due to reliance on FIRMs, IHP fails to account for future risk due to changing climate and sea level rise, potentially leading to repetitive property losses.
  • The 100% housing assistance expense coverage from FEMA may discourage consideration of future risk and mitigation efforts at the individual level, potentially reducing incentives for investment in coastal flood risk management efforts.

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