Senate Panel Examines New Mapping Models for Flood Insurance Program

In the wake of a devastating flood in Louisiana, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is trying to debunk the perception that residents outside of a 100-year flood zone are safe from disaster.

The agency is working to implement new data-modeling and risk-assessment tools recommended in a 2015 annual report given to FEMA by the Technical Mapping Advisory Council, a federal commission that makes recommendations to the agency. Those recommendations were the subject of a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday.

“Today, most homeowners do not understand the true flood risk to their properties,” said Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) at today’s hearing. “FEMA’s rate model was and still is based on limited data from the early ’70s, and nearly half of FEMA’s maps remain out of date.”

Technical Mapping Advisory Council Chairman John Dorman emphasized to lawmakers the need to change the “perception” of safety for residents outside of the 100-year flood risk zone, such as many in Louisiana.

Sen. David Vitter noted that in his home state of Louisiana, most victims of the recent flood lacked coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Unfortunately only about 22 percent of those flooded had flood insurance, not because they didn’t meet some requirement or some notion of what was a prudent thing to do — rather, they were way outside what was understood as any sort of flood zone,” the Republican senator said.

“Some homeowners and businesses had flood insurance policies to help their recovery” in Louisiana, said ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “But many others did not, possibly because it wasn’t required or because they assumed they were safe outside of the 100-year floodplain.”

The report from the Technical Mapping Advisory Council recommends a transition from a 100-year model of flood risk to a more precise model, as well as better risk assessments.

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