High water markers may be coming to your city

By: Tracie Sempier / Published: Jan 12,  2015

We all know there are risks associated with living on the coast. Floods are the most common and costly disaster in the United States and all communities are vulnerable. A new initiative led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeks to increase awareness by coastal residents of this risk. Last fall, the City of Orange Beach in Alabama served as the only Gulf Coast community to pilot FEMA’s new High Water Mark Initiative. I had the pleasure of working closely with Lannie Smith, the City of Orange Beach’s floodplain manager/building official/emergency manager, in unveiling the first signs at Waterfront Park on Sept. 10, 2013.

The “Know Your Line: Be Flood Aware” High Water Mark initiative was created by FEMA and seven other federal agencies (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Small Business Administration) to help remind community residents of major local floods and encourage residents to prepare for the next one. Participating communities post high water mark signs in prominent places, hold a high profile launch event to unveil the signs and conduct ongoing education to build local awareness of flood risk and motivate people to take action.

As part of this initiative, Orange Beach placed a total of 13 high water mark signs at various locations around the city in residential areas and parks. The signs show the storm surge from Hurricane Ivan, which was the worst hurricane to hit Orange Beach on Sept. 16, 2004. The storm pounded the coast from Fort Morgan, Ala., to Pensacola, Fla., causing extensive flooding and wind damage.

Because of the success of the Orange Beach pilot, 10 communities in Mississippi are participating in a special campaign to mark the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

  • Bay St. Louis
  • Biloxi
  • D’Iberville
  • Gulfport
  • Harrison County
  • Long Beach
  • Ocean Springs
  • Pascagoula
  • Jackson County
  • Pass Christian

 These communities will unveil their high water mark signs in a ceremony to take place on Aug. 29, 2015.


The group involved with the "Know Your Line" markers in Orange Beach includes: front row: Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon; Todd Davison of the NOAA Office for Coastal Management; Jeff Byard  of Alabama Emergency Management; and Rob Lowe of FEMA; second row: Ken Grimes of the City of Orange Beach; Jeff Garmon of the National Weather Service; Lannie Smith of the City of Orange Beach; Tracie Sempier of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant; and Leslie Durham of the Alabama Office of Water Resources; and back row: Vince Brown of FEMA. Photo courtesy of the City of Orange Beach.


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