Introducing the Forerunner Academy, a learning platform for floodplain managers
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Welcome to Jefferson Parish, LA.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Maggie Talley, Seamus Riley, and Michelle Gonzales for a case study on Jefferson Parish. They collaborate on all flood-related work to keep their citizens safe and secure, and also work on projects that connect the community to the environment and allow residents to interact more with the coastline.

Meet the Team.

Seamus, Michelle, and Maggie

Maggie is the Director of Floodplain Management & Hazard Mitigation. She manages the FEMA grants for elevations, mitigation reconstruction, and mitigation planning, and partners with other municipalities on larger planning strategies.

Seamus is the Floodplain Manager and CRS Specialist on Maggie’s team. He focuses on regulatory compliance, the Parish's CRS program needs, large scale ecological restoration projects, and regularly interfaces with residents on regulatory and insurance reladed questions.

Michelle is the ​​Director of Ecosystem and Coastal Management. She works on restoration projects that benefit the people living in Jefferson Parish’s coastal areas, which are subject to storm surge and subsidence.

A Look Into Jefferson Parish.

Jefferson Parish has a population of ~430,000 people and represents a key part of the vibrant Greater New Orleans area. The Parish is immensely diverse, each community has its own unique culture, and its residents have demonstrated significant resilience in the face of ongoing shifts.

One of the biggest challenges? Water. The Parish spans a total area of 665 square miles, and approximately 50% of that area comprises water.

“Water is our biggest asset and our biggest threat,” said Michelle.

Geographically, the region is exposed to Lake Pontchartrain in the north, the Mississippi River, the coastal marshes, and the Gulf of Mexico. Each major storm event, like 2021’s Hurricane Ida, creates a huge impact on the community’s livelihood: commerce, shrimp boats and charter fisherman, recreation, tourism, and much more.

In 2005, Jefferson Parish took a hard hit from Hurricane Katrina. There was widespread flooding and wind damage on the East bank, affecting essential businesses and services. Fortunately, the Parish’s levees and floodwalls did not fail, which supported their ability to recuperate. However, they faced similar challenges in 2012 from Hurricane Isaac and in 2021 from Hurricane Ida. With more powerful storms becoming even more likely to hit in the future, the community is increasingly prioritizing preparedness and mitigation.

The small but mighty floodplain management team in Jefferson Parish takes a progressive approach to their work by prioritizing efficiency and redefining what success looks like in the field.

“The volume of houses that we mitigate astounds me. There is a lot of minutiae in managing grants and navigating federal regulations - things change constantly and are extremely complex. The fact that we continue to improve in this environment is a big accomplishment. It makes me proud that we can keep people safe in their homes,” said Maggie.

To contribute to flood safety, Jefferson Parish also participates in the Community Rating System (CRS) program. While it’s voluntary, participation in the CRS generates significant flood insurance savings for residents, which can in turn make investing in insurance as a mitigation measure more affordable. The Parish began participating in the program in 1992, and maintained a CRS Class 6 from 2007-2018. When Maggie and Michelle took ownership, they upgraded to a Class 5 - earning the community a 25% discount on insurance, equal to approximately 11 million dollars in annual savings.

Forerunner’s Elevation Certificate (EC) Error Detection feature has been a big contributor to the Parish’s success in the program.

“We can just export ECs to a spreadsheet, which removes so many extra little steps that previously held us back. It significantly speeds our process up, and also reduces errors in the review process. In our last EC review, we got a 98% after the first review!” Maggie noted.

Forerunner was built to simplify the work of Elevation Certificate checking for communities with high-performing CRS programs, where meeting minimum requirements is paramount to their floodplain programs. For teams like Jefferson Parish’s, saving time and providing a backstop for crucial EC review can make a huge difference in efficiency where every minute counts.

Overall, the CRS program helps the Parish put safeguards around development and emphasizes the importance of investing in mitigation. Participating in the program also keeps floodplain management at the forefront of conversations so they can maintain momentum.

The team is excited to keep working towards a CRS class 3 and to launch exciting new projects, including a "living shoreline."

This project, led by Michelle, involves creating 25 acres of new marsh. It gives people the ability to see, experience, and be more connected with the coastal area - a lot of which is not accessible today. The shoreline will now include a levee trail with direct views of the marsh and signage on why the marsh is important. It will also give people access to a boardwalk, and a dock and tidal creeks for activities like kayaking.

The team is eager to leverage the rich data that Forerunner provides and want to use it in new, creative ways moving forward. Currently, Seamus leverages Forerunner’s public-facing features “at least 5 times a day” in his conversations with residents and contractors, and sees even more opportunities ahead. Forerunner’s public website, in particular, has helped to more easily communicate flood risk to the diverse Jefferson Parish community. Since Maggie, Michelle, and Seamus can’t be everywhere at once, the website serves to provide residents with information on an ongoing basis, even when they can’t answer the phone. It’s designed to be user-friendly, so that residents don’t get confused when searching for data. The team also looks forward to using the datasets that Forerunner unlocks to inform their work more broadly. Applications include informing hazard mitigation plans, identifying trends in subsidence, informing analysis for more restrictive freeboard requirements, and strengthening grant applications.

While there is no way to predict what the future holds, Jefferson Parish is lucky to have inspiring leaders, who are constantly innovating and working tirelessly to keep their community members safe and happy.

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