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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.