Flood Map Modernization:

Program Strategy Shows Promise, but Challenges Remain

GAO-04-417: Published: Mar 31, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2004.

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Flood maps identify areas at greatest risk of flooding and provide the foundation for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The maps are used by (1) communities to establish minimum building standards designed to reduce the impact of flooding, (2) FEMA to set insurance rates, and (3) lenders to identify property owners who are required to purchase flood insurance. Nearly 70 percent of all flood maps are more than 10 years old, according to FEMA. In an effort to update its flood maps, FEMA is implementing a $1 billion, 5-year map modernization program. GAO was asked to review the progress of FEMA's map modernization program.

Through its map modernization program, FEMA intends to use advanced technologies to produce more accurate and accessible digital flood maps available on the Internet. These maps are expected to improve community efforts to reduce the impact of floods, increase property owners' use of flood insurance, and improve community, state and federal efforts to reduce the risks of other natural and man-made hazards. In developing digital flood maps, FEMA plans to incorporate data that are of a level of specificity and accuracy commensurate with communities' relative flood risk. According to FEMA, there is a direct relationship between the types, quantity, and detail of the data and analysis used to develop maps and the costs of obtaining and analyzing those data. Although FEMA ranked the nation's 3,146 counties from highest to lowest risk, it has not yet established data standards that describe the appropriate level of detail, accuracy, and analysis required to develop digital maps based on risk level. Without such standards, FEMA cannot ensure that it uses the same level of data collection and analysis for all communities in the same risk category. Such standards can also help FEMA to target its map modernization resources more efficiently by matching the level of data collection and analysis with the level of flood risk. FEMA has developed partnerships with states and local entities that have begun mapping activities and has a strategy on how to best work with these entities. However, the overall effectiveness of FEMA's future partnering efforts is uncertain because FEMA has not yet developed a clear strategy for partnering with communities with less resources and little or no experience in flood mapping. By developing such a strategy, FEMA will be better able to identify and use the most effective approaches to engage all of its partners in map modernization.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's report on FEMA staffing, GAO-07-139 "FEMA Needs Adequate Data, Plans, and Systems to Effectively Manage Resources for Day-to-Day Operations," which was released on January 19, 2007, indicates that this recommendation has not yet been implemented. GAO concluded that FEMA lacks processes and plans that enable an agency to define staffing levels, identify the critical skills needed to achieve its mission, and eliminate or mitigate gaps between current and future skills and competencies. GAO recommended that FEMA take steps to better manage resources for its day-to-day operations, including collecting data that enables managers to monitor progress and support resource priorities. Update 6/13/08: According to DHS/FEMA, for the first time in a decade, FEMA attained a 95 percent staffing level and strengthened regional capability through the creation of over 100 new positions in FEMA's ten regional offices. According to FEMA Map Modernization officials, the program management office conducted further analysis on the staffing levels and was given approval for 43 term positions. The analysis of the staffing needs showed that some of the previously identified needs could be met by contract staff and would not require immediate deployment of new Federal staff. As of January 4th, 2008, 30 term positions were filled and the others are at various stages of being filled. Finally, FEMA has entered the final year of congressionally appropriated funding of the Flood Map Modernization Program. Upon completion, Map Modernization will provide reliable digital flood hazard data and maps for 92 percent of the Nation's population and easy access and sharing of that information.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FEMA's map modernization achieves the intended benefits of improved flood mitigation, increased flood insurance participation, and improved multi-hazard mitigation and risk management capabilities through the production of more accurate and accessible flood maps, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response to ensure that it has the staff capacity to effectively implement the nationwide mapping contract and the overall map modernization program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, FEMA published a Partnership Building Plan in March 2005. This plan delineates FEMA's strategy for strengthening the agency's flood mapping and floodplain management efforts through the Cooperating Technical Partners program. The strategy encourages unification of multiple governmental entities for producing quality mapping products for the communities served. The plan addresses the variations in resources and technical expertise among governmental entities and allows for differing levels of participation or leverage according to the capabilities of the participating communities' governmental entities.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FEMA's map modernization achieves the intended benefits of improved flood mitigation, increased flood insurance participation, and improved multi-hazard mitigation and risk management capabilities through the production of more accurate and accessible flood maps, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response to develop and implement strategies for partnering with state and local entities with varying levels of capabilities and resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation that FEMA develop and implement data standards to identify and use consistent data collection and analysis methods for communities with similar risks, FEMA published its Multi-Year Flood Hazard Identification Plan in November 2004. The plan describes FEMA's strategy for addressing our concerns and discusses the varying types of data collection and analysis techniques the agency plans to use to develop flood hazard data in order to relate the level of study and level of risk for each county. As the map modernization effort reached the halfway point, FEMA performed a mid-program evaluation that considered input from Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, and other stakeholders.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FEMA's map modernization achieves the intended benefits of improved flood mitigation, increased flood insurance participation, and improved multi-hazard mitigation and risk management capabilities through the production of more accurate and accessible flood maps, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response to develop and implement data standards that will enable FEMA, its contractor, and its state and local partners to identify and use consistent data collection and analysis methods for communities with similar risk.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, FEMA set goals in its November 2004 Multi-Year Flood Hazard Identification Plan for key performance indicators. FEMA's four indicators are (1) Population with Digital GIS Flood Data Available Online, (2) Population with Adopted Maps that Meet Quality Standards, (3) Percent of Effort Leveraged; that is, state and local resources provided for map modernization as a percentage of FEMA resources provided, and (4) Appropriated Funds Sent to Cooperating Technical Partners (CTP). To track its progress of map modernization annually, FEMA set target percentages for achieving these performance indicators in fiscal years 2006 through 2009. FEMA updated the goals in its March 2006 Flood Map Modernization Mid-Course Adjustment.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FEMA's map modernization achieves the intended benefits of improved flood mitigation, increased flood insurance participation, and improved multi-hazard mitigation and risk management capabilities through the production of more accurate and accessible flood maps, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response to develop and implement useful performance measures that define FEMA' s progress in increasing stakeholders' awareness and use of the new maps, including improved mitigation efforts and increased participation rates in purchasing flood insurance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

 

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