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A new proposal by the Federal Emergency Management Agency would enable people whose homes were destroyed by floods and then bought out by the government to retain the flood-prone lands to rebuild or sell. If adopted, it would contradict FEMA’s long-standing policy of buying out and removing homes repeatedly damaged by floods, and then converting that land into open space.
The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from the New Jersey Flood Plain Managers and the National Resource Defense Council who believe it will perpetuate building on land at greatest risk to flooding and at highest cost to taxpayers.
According to the NRDC, “By purchasing a damaged house, paying for its demolition, and then allowing the owner to rebuild, FEMA is encouraging a maladaptive practice that does little to reduce long-term flood risk and flood damages.” (Read the NRDC blog post.)
FEMA’s current policy to repurpose land into open space is short-sighted and makes little practical sense. Why would a person who paid millions for a home by the shore allow the government to take the land instead of pre-emptively working with an engineer to create a hurricane-proof structure raised above the flood plain? This has been the norm here in Florida for some time.
New York and New Jersey could learn a lot from the work that Florida has done to change code requirements and help homeowners and businesses deal with the constant issues of hurricanes and flooding. The approach in Florida is all about storm hardening, not giving up.
I suspect the new FEMA proposal stems from lawsuits and politicians worried about the impact of undeveloped land on the tax base. Either way, if FEMA is going to burden taxpayers with the cost of rebuilding, the international building code must be enforced and special engineering standards must be met for all structures built in a flood zone. It makes sense.
FEMA’s proposal is not without problems. It would grant rebuilding money to homeowners who were approved for flood insurance without following dry flood proofing protocols. The maximum insurance payout was $250,000. Under the new policy, the homeowner would be able to collect the full value of the home, potentially millions of dollars.
Taxpayers should not be responsible for a gambler’s debit, penalized by short-sighted homeowners who decide to roll the dice rather than pay higher insurance premiums to protect their homes.
It is troubling that homeowners are not required to follow the same dry flood proofing guidelines as commercial building and business owners. FEMA must take steps to ensure that rebuilding funds are distributed only if dry flood proofing protocols are met. Without that assurance, taxpayers will be caught in a vicious cycle of paying every time these properties are wiped out by floods.
Tom Osborne is the owner and president of Flood Panel, LLC based in Jupiter, Florida. He oversees design, development and manufacturing of flood mitigation products for commercial buildings in flood zones nationwide. Osborne works closely with the Association of Flood Plain Managers and is a member of the Small Business Association of America. He is also a Certified Provider of Continuing Education for the American Institute of Architects for Dry Flood Proofing Commercial Buildings.
We are all too familiar with annual springtime floods that arise from a deadly combination of snowmelt and seasonal showers. But there is an unexpected threat that can sometimes produce floods when we may least expect it: in the dead of winter. Several communities in recent months have been either actually flooded or under severe flood threat when rivers and large streams began to pack up chunks of ice against rocks, bridges, or narrow culverts. The resulting jam of mini-icebergs built up against itself, then froze solid into a veritable dam that backed up still-moving water with deadly speed.
During the early months of this year, there have been many flooding events caused by ice dams that sent frigid rivers streaming onto roads, residential communities, and businesses. More than a few of these events occurred in the State of Maine, which is blessed with many wild rivers and, some would say, cursed with very cold weather. At any rate, a quick search of 2018 flooding records will turn up many floods in this state caused by ice dams.
Heavy rains and swiftly warming temperatures followed a prolonged cold spell in the Northeastern U.S., leading to a long ice jam that clogged the Connecticut River. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite collected natural-color (left) and false-color (right) images of the ice on January 18, 2018. In the false-color image, ice appears light blue, and open water appears black. A second large jam is visible south of Haddam, Connecticut.
One such flood took place in Fryeburg, Maine, when the Saco River was blocked by a huge ice dam that sent a deep sheet of water flooding across the aptly named River Street. Due to the frigid temperatures that caused the ice dam to form, the flooded water quickly turned to a thick sheet of ice that covered the road; this was very difficult to remove without breaking up the underlying road itself. Luckily, this flood did not threaten any residential communities, but it did force the closure of River Street and caused inconvenient traffic detours.
Other communities were not so lucky. The town of Kent, Connecticut suffered dreadful anxiety, inconvenience, and damage from a mile-long ice dam on the nearby Housatonic River. This ice dam backed up for miles onto major roadways and residential areas. Naturally, as soon as the floodwater intruded into roads, it froze solid into a massive block of ice that stretched for miles along crucial transportation routes. In some areas, cars and other vehicles were completely encased in a block of ice that reached halfway up to the roof. Desperate citizens called for the ice dam to be broken up with dynamite or wrecking balls, so plagued were they by the resulting “ice flood” that impacted a vast area.
Residences that are flooded during this season are similarly afflicted by the fact that ice is exponentially more difficult to deal with than is regular flood water. Hot water heaters and furnaces are typically located in cellars, and when a basement is entombed by a foot of ice it cannot even be pumped out! The home quickly becomes uninhabitable when heating systems are gripped by solid ice.
Essential services in areas that may be exposed to floods — no matter what the cause — must be protected by mechanical flood panels, geographical flood defenses, or other flood barriers if emergency response is to remain available during these disasters. Ice dams, and the unexpected and very sudden flooding that these dams can cause, are just one more reason to ensure that ALL hospitals, clinics, and fire stations remain protected by the new flood panel technologies that are available today. In this case, a penny well spent on prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
A study by the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project predicts another busy hurricane season for 2018 with 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes expected. Although less active than last year, the number of storms is slightly higher than the 30-year average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
Forecasters are wary to sound the alarm. They point to Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 hurricane that devastated South Florida in 1992. That year recorded only six named storms and one sub-tropical storm. In contrast, 2010 was a highly active year with 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes in the Atlantic. Just one tropical storm made landfall in the U.S. that season. Read the full story here.
According to NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division, “The U.S. averages one to two hurricane landfalls each season.” Last year, three category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. in Houston, South Florida and Puerto Rico. Damage from these storms is still impacting those regions, even as we close in on the 2018 hurricane season.
Coastal communities along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard would be wise to take precautions. A new study puts more than 40 million people living within areas at risk to floods. (Read our recent blog for more on that study.)
Long before a storm hits, building owners should contact the local emergency management agency to find out if any active flood warning systems are in place. The National Weather Service river-forecast centers prepare river-flood predictions and disseminate them to the public through NWS offices. Note these forecasts do not include many non-residential buildings near smaller streams. Property owners in those areas should work with local and state agencies to develop an adequate forecasting system.
Building owners who have taken steps to mitigate potential flood damage with dry floodproofing systems such as floodgates, floodpanels and flood doors should develop detailed flood emergency operational plans. Plans should include information on how floodproofing measures work during and after a flood event. For example, equipment that requires electricity, such as a sump pump, needs power throughout a flood event.
The plan should establish a chain of command, delineate personnel notification procedures, assign specific duties, describe locations for floodproofing measures, detail install and repair procedures, and include evacuation instructions. It should also include a periodic drill and training program, and a schedule for regular evaluation and updates. Owners should also schedule inspection and maintenance for all flood protected enclosures.
As the 2018 hurricane season approaches, no one knows for sure what impacts this year’s storms will have on the U.S. coasts. For those potentially in harm’s way, it’s best to heed the saying, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
People across the country were breathing a deep sigh of relief as the long and devastating 2017 hurricane season drew to a close. As cities across the storm-ravaged areas began the Herculean task of cleaning up and rebuilding, many city planners are looking beyond the immediate clean-up phase, and are determined to build in flood control measures that will help to lessen the impact of future storms.
Many innovative and cutting-edge technologies are being examined, and experts from around the world are being consulted. The Netherlands, with its centuries-old struggle against the sea, is particularly prominent as a place to begin looking for answers; here there is a wealth of expertise and battle-tested technology to be found. Now, many cities in the US are seeking to emulate the success of the Dutch people, and officials are finally beginning to understand that we are now facing a long-term challenge that will only get worse as climate change brings more frequent and more vicious storms.
Enlarged rainfall graphic for Hurricane Harvey in Southeast Texas. Author: David M. Roth; NOAA WPC
In Houston alone, there were over 8 million cubic yards of debris that had to be removed before full attention could be turned to flood prevention projects. There is also an acute housing crisis to be solved; a plan must be developed to shelter all those families that were displaced by the destruction of their homes. But even with these pressing and immediate concerns, planners in Houston are already seeking ways to dovetail flood control planning into every step of the recovery process. This is one of the lessons that the country of Holland has implemented well.
The most obvious flood mitigation project in Houston is to protect, widen, and prevent development around bayous and other water-detention areas; just as Holland has done for hundreds of years. Natural bayous and man-made reservoir projects can absorb a lot of storm water runoff, and if designed or improved with flooding in mind these can channel raging rivers of runoff into a desired direction. However, this obvious priority is too often challenged and circumvented. Houston, like all other growing cities in the US, is increasingly running out of real estate for new housing projects, even as the demand for housing is higher than ever. With the loss of so many homes to the hurricane comes a critical need for the replacement of these structures.
Houston planners understand that a high value must be placed on the flood protection value of its bayous, and they would be wise to resist any temptation to drain or build near these wetlands. But real life often has not worked this way in the past. Many developers have demonstrated a tendency to resist zoning laws and regulations that hamper their profits, and to look for loopholes and workarounds that can result in higher returns on their investments. The fact that skirting or getting an easement from zoning regulations can directly lead to floods and loss of the structures only means that there will be more business to be had in the rebuilding of the homes. Therefore, zoning decisions cannot be controlled or influenced by the construction industry!
Houston clearly cannot allow any further damage or encroachment of its precious retention lakes and bayous. City planners cannot permit developers to thwart or ignore zoning laws. This was starkly demonstrated during Hurricane Harvey, when communities that were built too close to the large retention lakes northwest of the city were submerged. Now, as Houston rebuilds, the priority is being placed on increasing the number of these critical artificial watersheds, augmenting and protecting the natural bayous, and on carving out stringent zoning regulations that are carved in granite.
Flood Panel LLC accepts
all major credit cards.