It has been a little over a month since the Biden/Harris administration passed its first 100 days in office. With high expectations for economic and environmental policy shifts, a lot is at stake for the United States in terms of new strategies for flood-prone areas and natural disaster risk mitigation. As a software company working with floodplain managers at all levels of government, our team at Forerunner has kept a close eye on recent policy developments and their impacts. In this blog post, we detail some of our key findings (as you read, bear in mind that we are not policy experts!).
Growing concern about actuarial clarity and the NFIP, particularly as climate change has exacerbated the need for subsidized insurance rates at an equitable cost, has led to the restructuring of its pricing methodology. The goal of this update, known as Risk Rating 2.0, is to make flood insurance more sustainable and accessible. FEMA breaks down the changes to the National Flood Insurance Program in this White House briefing. If you’d like to learn more about the topic, our team has written a blog about some of these changes in anticipation of the implementation of Phase I in October.
An executive order by the Biden/Harris administration has reinstated the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS). The program’s goal is to help ensure that federally funded infrastructure meets flood risk protection standards that take into account future hydrometeorological scenarios. Factors like siting and design will be taken into account when developing new projects going forward. This might be especially impactful for floodplain managers in communities with larger infrastructure projects planned.
Climate change indicators can be useful for informing hazard mitigation and long-term planning. The EPA writes extensively here about what these recently updated indicators under the Biden/Harris administration mean for coastal cities impacted by climate change. The 12 indicators utilize publicly available data and visualizations to represent measures of activity relevant to community resilience. In particular, the coastal flooding indicator uses hourly water level data to measure flooding days, which can help floodplain managers and coastal communities understand decadal changes to sea-level from 1950 to 2020.
The administration also announced in May that NASA will launch a collection of complementary satellites equipped to track the impacts of disasters from the earth's surface to the atmosphere. Data from the satellites will be publicly available and can be used to better understand the local-scale impact of weather events to communities, as measured by the velocity of storms and atmospheric conditions. The satellites will primarily focus on greenhouse gases and climate conditions, for example aerosols and their unpredictability in the atmosphere. They will also track precipitation, assist in better predicting severe weather events, and help to assess drought. The observatory will work to analyze changes in atmospheric conditions and changes to the earth’s landscape as they relate to climate change.
The administration will allocate 1 billion dollars to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program as a down-payment on future natural hazards and financial risk disasters. In preparation for future hazard events, a portion of these funds will go towards states, tribal governments and communities to prepare for extreme weather and aid in pre-disaster mitigation efforts. The goal of the BRIC program as a whole is to better balance proactive and reactive mitigation and disaster response efforts nation-wide.
BRIC funding will be allocated towards not just physical floodproofing and shovel-ready projects, but also building risk communications and partnerships. This FEMA worksheet breaks down the requirements and guidelines for applying for BRIC funding. As we work towards shifting national disaster response toward incorporating adaptive strategies, the new BRIC funding will be placed in three categories: C&CB activities, Mitigation projects, and Management costs. Funding will be directed towards activities which ‘enhance the knowledge, skills, expertise, etc of the current workforce to expand or improve the administration of mitigation assistance.’ Subcategories eligible for funding include building code activities, partnerships, project scoping, mitigation planning and planning-related activities, etc. BRIC specifically encourages the use of nature-based solutions, which are sustainable planning and building practices that make use of the natural world in collaboration with the build environment. This document explains how communities can leverage existing resource and funding to identify and develop nature-based solutions.
An ongoing criticism of federal funding is that application and reporting requirements can contribute to reinforcing structural inequality. For communities with historically few resources, navigating the complex world of grant funding can be difficult and onerous. It is important to note that funding through BRIC this past cycle has seen few low-income community applicants. This article found that only 10% of impoverished communities applied for funding, none of which were from Mississippi, one of the most flood-prone and lowest income states in the country. Many in the floodplain management community are looking toward BRIC to eventually shift the needle on this access gap.
With the rollout of Risk Rating 2.0, the Biden/Harris administration has seen some contention surrounding the cost of flood insurance in high flood risk states. To wit, Rep. Senator Kennedy of Louisiana has recently pushed for a reinstatement of the Flood Insurance Fairness Act, previously brought to Congress in 2000, 2011 and 2017. The Act is intended to restrict the ability of FEMA and the executive administration to impose new flood insurance premiums, which includes the implementation of Risk Rating 2.0, until it is signed off by Congress. In a general sense, changes to flood insurance premiums will be highest in high flood prone states and counties. This is particularly impactful for the State of Louisiana – under the Risk Rating 2.0, 80% of Louisiana residents are expected to see increases in flood insurance premiums. Kennedy’s proposed Act would mean that changes to the National Flood Insurance Program would have to go through Congress before being deployed.
The Biden/Harris administration seems to be keen to work with governmental and NGO stakeholders to prepare for and commit to disaster risk reduction and adaptation. We've seen an encouraging shift in the long-term stability of programs geared toward community outreach and disaster relief. There has also been an emphasis on creating more publicly accessible data, which will allow for floodplain managers and community members to better understand the conditions of their communities and resources available to them.
What remains in question is the lack of funding for flood mitigation programs and pre-disaster projects, especially stressing the need for support to low income and marginalized communities in allocating resources directly to local governments in the hopes of creating equitable risk recovery standards. Similarly, the allocation of federal funds to not only physical mitigation projects but partnership and non-shovel-ready project funding.
This blog post was written in collaboration with our GIS analyst, Sophia Clavel. If you have any questions about this article or if you'd like to learn more about what we do please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.