Update on FEMA's Flood Hazard Map Modernization Initiative

February 10, 2006


In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This program called for the federal government to help cover costs of flood damages, creating a structure that assigned the financial responsibility to individuals and entities particularly at risk for flooding. Congress amended NFIP in 1973, requiring the Flood Insurance Administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to produce countywide "Flood Insurance Rate Maps," or FIRMs, to set federal flood insurance premiums based on flood risk. In 1979, the newly created Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) became responsible for producing FIRMs. By 1994, FEMA had developed a prototype FIRM as a digital file, or DFIRM, that could be displayed on a computer. The agency announced that for flood data management and map production efficiency it intended to expand its DFIRM inventory. In 1997, when DFIRM production was becoming operational, FEMA's director delivered a strategic plan for a "Flood Map Modernization Initiative (FMMI)" to Congress, whereby all new flood maps would be produced as DFIRMs and 100,000 FIRMs would be converted to digital file format. In 1999, FEMA reported that FMMI would be completed by 2007. FEMA's goal now is 2008. Congress appropriated an initial $5 million to establish the FMMI in FY2000. After that initial step a debate developed concerning future funding for the program. The White House and Congress had differences of opinion about how the program should be funded, by an agency's internal fee-levying and spending authority or by appropriations. At times, the House and Senate debated about whether to fund the program at all. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by the Bush Administration and Congress in December 2002 (P.L. 108-5). FEMA was brought under DHS authority in March 2003 and continues to operate the flood mapping program. In FY2004, FEMA's budget authority was transferred to DHS appropriation subcommittees. DFIRMS are developed from U.S. Geological Survey digital maps depicting visible land-surface features such as waterways, terrain, and regional infrastructure. Local or regional infrastructure and environmental data provided by local officials are also incorporated to identify where flood hazards may affect human settlements. Although some local data have become available as digital maps, local paper maps are still prevalent and are produced at geographic scales different from what USGS uses. In 1997, when FEMA unveiled the FMMI strategic plan, some regional and local authorities became concerned about FEMA's new requirement that they provide local data and maps as digital files to aid in DFIRM production. At the time, FEMA made this a condition for remaining in the NFIP and retaining federal flood insurance coverage. However, by 1999, FEMA realized that it would need to provide grants to some state/tribal governments and direct funding to economically challenged local jurisdictions to attain FMMI goals. FEMA has since contracted for professional mapping assistance in converting paper flood maps to digital files for uniform DFIRM input. Recognition of flood hazard studies needed after Hurricane Katrina, executing timely regular updates of DFIRMs, and the fate of the FMMI under DHS are some of FEMA's recent concerns. The report will be updated as warranted.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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