UNC studies floodplain management

UNC research guides floodplain management

July 17, 2012


UNC research guides improvements to floodplain management planning

A comprehensive evaluation by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will help communities develop better floodplain management plans and reduce flood insurance premiums.

Based on the UNC study, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will implement changes that its National Flood Insurance Program will use to rate communities' preparedness in 2013.

The research was led by Philip Berke, deputy director of the Institute for the Environment, and Gavin Smith, executive director of the UNC Hazards Center, which houses the federal Department of Homeland Security's Coastal Hazards Center. Berke is also director of the institute's Center for Sustainable Community Design. Both Berke (a professor) and Smith (a research assistant professor) are faculty members in the department of city and regional planning in the College of Arts and Sciences. Ward Lyles, a doctoral student in the department, assisted with the research.

Findings of the study showed that plans submitted by communities to FEMA are weak to moderate in strength, vary widely in their ability to be monitored, and are poorly coordinated with other local planning policies, like land use planning and investment programs.

"The more a community can tailor its plan to its own particular situation, the more it can reduce vulnerability to flood hazards," Berke said. "FEMA is increasing the number of credits they give for integrated and comprehensive planning for the future. They want a community to have a vision of a resilient, more sustainable place and to have a plan for that. Communities will be able to earn more credits for these types of plans - and more credits mean that property owners in these communities will pay less for their property insurance."

More than 1,000 communities are part of the flood insurance program, which can reduce the insurance premiums for residential structures by up to 45 percent. FEMA's changes to the National Flood Insurance Program will be implemented in its 2013 Community Rating System (CRS) manual.

"Our research shows that the role of planning is important to develop a comprehensive and integrated strategy," Smith said. "The fact that FEMA has discussed altering the scoring system for CRS plans to include more points for good participatory planning - as suggested by our findings - represents an important improvement in the program."


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