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What We Learned at the Florida Floodplain Managers Association's Annual Conference

April 15, 2020
Susanna Pho, CFM

April was slated to be a busy month for floodplain management conferences.  As it became apparent that the world had a different trajectory, many of the events we were planning to attend postponed or cancelled outright. Florida's Floodplain Managers Association (FFMA) was undeterred, though, and last week we had the opportunity to attend our first virtual floodplain management conference hosted by FFMA: "Working Uni-Virtual-ly to Stop Flooding". Over 300 people attended the conference to learn about work being done in the state of Florida. Here are some of our learnings:

Changes are being made to accommodate COVID-19 challenges.

FEMA Region IV's Jason Hunter noted that the federal government has made some temporary changes to adapt to the ongoing pandemic. This included working with communities to conduct Community Assistance Contacts (CACs) instead of Community Assistance Visits (CAVs) where possible. CAVs are in-person visits where a FEMA or corresponding state representative provides technical assistance and determines National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) compliance in specific communities. CACs can be held via phone or video call. For those communities with upcoming CAVs that could not be converted to CACs , they will be conducted as soon as COVID-19 sheltering restrictions are lifted. New appeals for Letter of Map Revisions (LOMRs) were also suspended until April 30th. In addition to these provisions, the NFIP has extended its 30-day flood insurance renewal grace period to 120 days until June 15th, 2020 so that policyholders have more time to renew.

Risk Rating 2.0 is moving forward as planned.

FEMA's Tony Hake updated conference attendees on Risk Rating 2.0, the ongoing overhaul of the NFIP's flood insurance structure, which is scheduled to be rolled out on October 1st, 2021. The delivery date was pushed back this past fall, from 2020 to 2021, and it sounds like the 2021 date is holding fast. In the interim, updates were recently made (on April 1st, 2020) to the NFIP.

The floodplain management world has been keeping a close watch on new developments, as Risk Rating 2.0 will affect all 5.1 million existing policies written in over 22k participating NFIP communities. During the conference, Tony stressed that the statutory requirements from the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12) and the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 (HFIAA) would stay in place. Additionally, existing limits on annual premium increases will not change. He also shared additional statistics that help to contextualize the impacts of Risk Rating 2.0, nothing that under Risk Rating 1.0 the NFIP struggled to understand rate class distribution. As of June 20th, 2019, grandfathered policies represented 4.2% of the NFIP's single-family home portfolio. Subsidized policies represented 17.7% of the NFIP single-family home portfolio. This means that 78.1% of the NFIP's single family home portfolio consists of full-risk policies (which includes Preferred Risk Policies [PRPs]).

Some big questions still loom with respect to RR2.0's rollout. A topic of concern between the floodplain management community and the federal government is the continued role of the Community Rating System (CRS). Since the CRS provides substantial discounts to residents in participating communities, there is general concern that these discounts will disintegrate with Risk Rating 2.0 (discounts on policies might conflict with the notion of actuarial rates). FEMA has been steadfast in reinforcing the message that the CRS won't go away. The role of elevation certificates is also relatively unclear, as is the evolving future role of private flood. In another presentation by Neptune Flood's founder, Jim Albert, the question of private flood policy fees to fund floodplain management was raised.

County-level entities are working across departments to enable local adaptation.

We've been working with the floodplain management department in Pinellas County to better understand their Elevation Certificate workflow and optimize our product. The conference gave us a chance to understand the broader context of our work.

38.8% of parcels in Pinellas County fall within Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). In a presentation titled "Pinella County Floodplain Program: Reaching the Public and Planning for the Future", a team from the County shared the collaborative work they're engaged in to better understand these properties and their flood risk. The team was comprised of individuals working on property appraisal, floodplain management, mapping, and resiliency planning. Mike Twitty, Pinellas County's Property Appraiser, noted that the presenters identified resource silos and saw the opportunity to bridge work across departments to yield more meaningful products for residents.The cross-departmental nature of their work is relatively unique, but we're seeing it happen increasingly often at regional- and county-levels across the country.

To develop better elevation data for planning and decision-making, the group leveraged known Elevation Certificate (EC) data by tapping into EC intake at the local, city level using an internal data entry app. Because elevation certificate data can be spotty, the County will be combining EC data with existing LIDAR and property level foundation data to extrapolate first floor heights across Pinellas communities. In turn, this modeled data will be used to better understand the impact of changes in water levels on property values, flood insurance affordability, and future capital improvements. Hank Hodde, the County's Sustainability & Resiliency Program Coordinator, also spoke about using better and more specific data generated by the team to inform county-wide vulnerability assessments and local-level decision-making.

Climate change will continue to have cascading impacts on regulation and litigation.

As sea level rise and climate-related risk are increasingly incorporated into regulatory tools, environmental litigation is likewise evolving. Erin Deady presented at the conference on new developments in climate law. In the near term, we should keep a close eye on how rights and responsibilities play out with the implementation of products like Risk Rating 2.0 (which will likely include sea level rise) and changes in government adaptation planning. Especially in the context of capital improvement planning, duty, causation, and injury can get complicated when a changing climate is added to the mix. Deady emphasized the importance of delineating planning-level decisions from operational-level decisions in dealing with capital improvements in order to better manage future tort liability.

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