Floodplain managers come together to plan for flood insurance challenges

Image(BILOXI, Miss.) — Changes to the National Flood Insurance Program are raising many questions about how much flood insurance premium will increase, when those increases will take place, and what communities must do to retain discounts for residents through a program called the Community Rating System.

Professionals who work closely with flood management issues in Mississippi’s coastal counties attended a workshop Aug. 14 to learn about the National Flood Insurance Program Reform Act of 2012, also known as the Biggert-Waters Act, and what it will mean for property owners.

Representatives from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Insurance Services Office, and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program met at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center to talk with local floodplain managers and Community Rating System coordinators about changes to the National Flood Insurance Program. During the workshop, speakers identified ways communities can maintain their status in the Community Rating System, explained what the new law means for flood insurance premiums in local communities and discussed pending legislation that would make changes to the Biggert-Waters Act.

It was clear that information about the changes hadn’t yet trickled down to the local level, and even FEMA was waiting for more details from the federal government.

Kristin Greger, Biloxi’s CRS coordinator, is in charge of identifying and implementing ways that Biloxi can earn points in the CRS program. Those points affect the rating that determines what level of discounts, if any, are offered to flood insurance policy holders.

One way communities earn points is to have a team of floodplain managers from different cities and counties that works together to inform residents about ways to reduce flooding hazards and how to protect their property.

The Coast has an active group called C-HOST, which stands for Coastal Hazards Outreach Strategy Team. Communities receive points in the CRS program for outreach activities. Under the new guidelines, they will have to modify their team into a Program for Public Information and make some changes. At the workshop, Greger learned how they can transition the group.

“We can keep a lot of the points we already get for Community Rating System credits, and earn additional ones because the new guidelines help create an outreach program that is a lot more influential,” she said.

Josh Hayes, Bay St. Louis floodplain manager and building inspector, said the workshop included frank discussion about the hot topic of flood insurance.

“All the cards were on the table,” he said. “This is where questions got answered.”

Workshop participants identified challenges they face trying to deliver information about flood insurance and flood risks to residents and community leaders.

“We know what we want to accomplish through communication and outreach,” Hayes said. “Floodplain management is a mystery to most residents. Homeowners don’t know about it.”

Realtors, insurance agents, lenders, homeowners, floodplain managers and community leaders are all groups that are on the front lines with residents, and the C-HOST organization would like to work with all of those groups to make everyone more informed about risks and ways to reduce them.

The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the NOAA Coastal Services Center and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium organized and facilitated the workshop.