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Floodplain managers in coastal Alabama form new workgroup

By: Hank Hodde / Published: Aug 06,  2018

This July, 25 practitioners in coastal Alabama, including public officials from 12 jurisdictions, participated in the first Community Rating System (CRS) Users-Group meeting. This significant first step towards solidifying multi-jurisdictional coordination will ultimately lower flood risks and insurance premiums through FEMA’s CRS Program.

Interest in better coordination amongst communities has been brewing for years, but now commitment has been made by these public officials due to the increasing benefits of the CRS and the fact that local flood maps are changing. This new network of floodplain management practitioners, known as the South Alabama Flood Engagement Team (SAFE-T), will now convene regularly to embark on their mission to increase capacity for public outreach, data information sharing, and response across local communities through shared challenges, solutions and resources.

What is a Community Rating System user-group?

In my last blog, I wrote about how the CRS Program assists communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) with enhanced local floodplain management and outreach. In short, the objective of the program is to reward communities that are doing more than meeting the minimum NFIP requirements to help their citizens prevent or reduce flood losses.

For instance, local officials can develop an informational outreach campaign, enforce higher regulatory standards (for example, elevating homes above FEMA’s set floodplain), acquire land and open space to absorb flood waters, or build green infrastructure to mitigate surge events.

As a result of the community’s effort, flood insurance premiums are reduced for policyholders, which in turn puts more money back in people’s pockets and the community. As of July 2018, there are 1,486 communities in the CRS that represent over 70 percent of the NFIP policies nationwide.

Table 1 shows the discounts received based on the community’s class rating and total points accrued.

Table 1. CRS classification breakdown. Note: “SFHA” means the Special Flood Hazard Area, or the 100-year floodplain.
Table 1. CRS classification breakdown. Note: “SFHA” means the Special Flood Hazard Area, or the 100-year floodplain.

The purpose of the local CRS user-group is to provide a support structure for public officials to learn about the CRS program itself and how they can achieve better class ratings based on local actions. There are currently 47 user-groups across the county, each assessing flood risks and creating solutions based on local conditions and challenges. SAFE-T will now be added to the map below, joining other coastal communities in the United States facing similar flooding impacts.

Local CRS user groups in the United States. Credit: CRSresources.org. Click on image for larger image.
Local CRS user groups in the United States. Credit: CRSresources.org. Click on image for larger image.

As a result of this meeting, the user-group was able to establish its mission, goals and needs. One important need was more local training for community officials and staff, including topics like floodproofing design, flood insurance markets, coastal mapping tools and technology. Another topic of conversation was the creation of projects, including working with real estate professionals, conducting a flood insurance coverage assessment, identifying land for open-space preservation and creating green infrastructure opportunities to enhance natural floodplain functions.

Five coastal Alabama communities in the CRS program 

There are five communities in coastal Alabama in the CRS program, including Baldwin County, Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Foley and Orange Beach. Their scores range from 7 to 8, bringing discounts of 10 percent and 15 percent to local policyholders. Out of the 24 jurisdictions in coastal Alabama participating in the NFIP, these five have 80 percent of the total NFIP policies within their jurisdictions, as well as policyholders paying over $14M for more than $6B in flood insurance coverage. According to recent analysis, their participation in the CRS is saving community members nearly $1.5M in flood insurance premium costs.

As flooding risks and populations continue to increase, these communities will be able to provide leadership to others in the area. Through SAFE-T, not only will existing CRS communities be able to increase their points and rating, but new communities may now decide to join the CRS. Both of these actions lead to more residents living in safer, more resilient communities and to further flood insurance premium discounts.

MASGC providing technical and coordination support

The Mississippi Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) extension agents are now supporting the two CRS user-groups in the coastal region: SAFE-T and the Coastal Hazard Outreach Strategy Team (C-HOST) in Mississippi. C-HOST was established in 2008 and supports 12 communities in the CRS. It is a regional outreach team and strives to deliver the general floodplain management message so that residents are educated about flood hazards, flood insurance, flood protection measures and the NFIP.

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