What we learned at ASFPM 2020

June 30, 2020

The Association of State Floodplain Managers Annual Conference is the largest floodplain management convening of the year. Over 1,960 individuals attended from their homes across the country to learn about topics ranging from community outreach to stream restoration. We caught a small portion of the 162 presentations — here's what we learned.

Conversations about equity and race spanned the conference.

Several plenary speakers and presenters sought to address floodplain management's role in recognizing and addressing institutional racism. Laurie Schoeman, a Senior Program Director at Enterprise Community Partners spoke at length about the urgent need for community-informed mitigation planning that acknowledges the nation's fraught history of disinvestment and redlining. She noted that "[the floodplain management] community can make a big difference and a visible difference. It's as much a part of our work as anything else." In a plenary session, Schoeman joined Sam Medlock, Senior Counsel for the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (U.S. House of Representatives), in advocating for more equitable floodplain management practices that center BIPOC. Schoeman called for increased investment in transitional justice and community-informed adaptation during her talk. This was echoed by Miriam Belblidia of Arcadis, whose impactful presentation highlighted the immense amount of work that needs to be done to make institutionalized floodplain management more inclusive. She noted that many decision-making and planning committees do not reflect the demographic profiles of communities they represent. In many of these same communities, residents are fatigued by historically inadequate engagement and the lack of compensation for their knowledge. Her call to action was clear: "community engagement must be adequately resourced" and residents must be compensated for their participation.

When pushed to articulate how justice work would otherwise manifest in the day-to-day of floodplain management, participants in the first conference plenary spoke about utilizing better data and more sophisticated tooling to enable the consideration of social vulnerability in flood engineering. Sam Brody, a Professor at Texas A&M University, emphasized the importance of combining social layers of analysis when conducting flood risk research. Kevin Shunk, the City of Austin's Floodplain Administrator, spoke about deploying more specific data to conduct better flood education outreach to communities of color and low income communities.

BRIC and RR2.0 are anticipated to change the landscape of floodplain management.

Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) is a new FEMA program aimed at funding more holistic mitigation projects throughout the country. Risk Rating 2.0 is a new rating structure for the National Flood Insurance Program meant to portray flood risk in a more nuanced way. Both programs are looming on the horizon and both will have wide-ranging impacts on the floodplain management community. With BRIC, speakers discussed the long-standing need to fund community adaptation projects. There is considerable hope that the program will help diversify how we think about and take action in response to flood hazard events.

Like BRIC, Risk Rating 2.0 will have a direct impact on floodplain management. Most of the floodplain managers we work with conduct outreach around flood insurance and field questions from residents about insurance policies. As such, their communities frequently rely on their insurance expertise. Details about the new risk rating program are being heavily mediated and there is concern that floodplain managers won't have enough time or information to consider the implications of the rollout. In our work at Forerunner, we've seen this concern manifested in a desire to better understand property-level risk outside of traditional FIRM maps. Our partner communities have taken a preemptive approach by gathering and analyzing local level data ahead of the RR2.0 rollout – in the hopes that they will be btter prepared to quickly understand the impact of the new program when it is deployed.

Digital tools continue to increase in sophistication, scale, and availability.

Quite a few presentations at ASFPM 2020 focused on new/improved technologies enabling floodplain management. Appetite for decision-support tools seems to be growing and the presentations anecdotally reflected this trend. A few of the solutions presented were:

While it is heartening that options for obtaining flood information continue to grow, it was also clear that many of the conference attendees felt lost in a sea of potential datasets and solutions. More work will need to be done to aggregate and organize floodplain management tooling as it emerges.

Modeling products are diversifying flood risk data at all levels of government.

Because ASFPM 2020 was originally slated to be held in Fort Worth, TX, many of the presentations centered on solutions being developed in Texas and FEMA Region 6. Cities like Forth Worth and Austin presented on the innovative flood modeling work and corresponding regulatory action taken in the state – including that which builds on NOAA's updated Atlas 14 data. A few sessions also covered ongoing Base Level Engineering work being done in Region 6. Per FEMA, Base Level Engineering (BLE) is "an automated riverine hydrologic and hydraulic modeling approach" developed to accelerate flood mapping across the country. Because traditional FIRM mapping can be very time-intensive, BLE allows for large-scale mapping in places where FIRM maps are out of date or nonexistent. This is especially valuable for rural communities that have traditionally had difficulty accessing floodplain mapping data. FEMA Region 6 began working on a large BLE project in 2014 and that data is now being used by communities as a baseline for future studies, to enable hazard mitigation planning, and to support local grant applications. The Region 6 BLE data can be accessed through the Interagency Flood Risk Management (InFRM) portal.

Have a question about our conference experience or a suggestion of one we should attend next? We would love to hear from you.

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