Chris is the Chief Building Official and Floodplain Administrator in Covington, LA. Covington is a city of 12,000 people and is over 200 years old. It has the charm of a small town, along with a vibrant historic downtown area, featuring many restaurants, art galleries, and antique shops. Chris has been there for about 20 years.
Like almost every city in Louisiana, flooding is a challenge in Covington. The city experiences a major flood event about every 15-20 years! While they are primarily affected by riverine flooding from the three rivers that flow through the city, they are only ~8 miles from Lake Pontchartrain, a brackish lake connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Following a storm, the city is often inundated by the tides from the nearby lake, and its flat topography makes the recovery process challenging.
Managing the floodplain is a big focus for Covington. In addition, they are grappling with the challenges presented by rapid growth. It is located in the fastest growing portion of St. Tammany Parish, the fastest growing Parish in Louisiana. They have to balance adding new development, while not increasing flood risk to residents downstream.
Over the course of his experience, Chris has identified two key areas of focus that have been especially meaningful in driving success and progress.
Coordinating internally, communicating to residents, and collaborating with key stakeholder groups are essential pieces of Covington’s floodplain management strategy.
Chris has many responsibilities in Covington, so internal coordination and efficiency are especially important. He has found Forerunner to be a valuable resource for supporting his internal floodplain management work. The dashboard provided by Forerunner consolidates and centralizes Covington’s data and documentation, helping to simplify their compliance processes and improve their day-to-day operations. Streamlining this work has freed up time to focus more on building relationships across jurisdictions and engaging Covington residents.
Covington engages their residents in a number of ways, including through social media, email blasts, and newsletters. They even created a flood information center on their website, which includes helpful videos, pertinent flood information, and links to their Forerunner website - a public website that enables the community to provide flood risk information for individual properties to residents. Their Forerunner website enables residents to easily access important information and documents, like Elevation Certificates, and to search for flood information without needing extra assistance.
Covington’s Forerunner website has been an invaluable asset for real estate agents. Because of Louisiana’s geography and well-known disaster history, potential buyers often ask realtors for information on flooding, and Chris’ office receives many calls from realtors trying to find Elevation Certificates. Chris attends local realtor meetings to share the Forerunner public website so they can self-service these needs. All they have to do is go to the public website and search for the property to see flood risk information and download the EC. When asked what advice Chris would have for other communities looking to engage this group, Chris shared that he’s never been turned down for a 5-10 minute presentation. He noted that,
“Local realtors are always looking to find property information quickly. Sharing the public website with them reduces call volume to our offices and gives them everything they are looking for related to flood risk. They seemed to pick it up quickly – they really like it.”
About seven years ago, Covington rejoined the CRS program. The voluntary incentive program recognizes and encourages local governments’ mitigation and adaptation activities. In exchange for these activities, communities receive discounts on flood insurance premiums that benefit residents and property owners. Chris has found that the savings generated are well worth the effort to participate in the rigorous program. Plus, a lot of their neighboring communities participate, which inspires camaraderie and competition.
Covington was excited to implement Forerunner to help manage the program and his team has found it to be a big contributor to their success. Chris highlighted two Forerunner features that have been especially helpful, the EC Error Detection Feature and Communication Logs.
Forerunner’s EC Error Detection Feature automates EC verification. 90% of ECs must be correct for the CRS program, so they have to be thoroughly checked, but doing it manually takes a lot of time. Forerunner automatically runs hundreds of validation checks on ECs, identifying potential clerical, compliance, and elevation issues that need to be addressed. Chris notes,
“It saves a ton of time. The review of the ECs in Forerunner is now a very important part of our final reviews.”
Forerunner’s Communication Logs automatically track important conversations about mitigation for internal recordkeeping and for credits in the program (320 and 360). On Covington’s Forerunner public website, there is a “Get Help” feature, where residents can fill out a brief form if they have a question for the floodplain management team. The submitted inquiries are automatically logged, so Chris does not have to worry about documentation and can address requests quickly.
“The logs are really helpful. It makes your annual recertification a little less cumbersome,” Chris highlighted.
Covington plans to continue building on their progress with the CRS program. As flood insurance premiums climb and Risk Rating 2.0 looms on the horizon, there is an expectation to do everything possible to ensure citizens get discounts on insurance and are prepared for the next storm.
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