United States: Federal Authorities Re-Assessing Approach To Flood Risk

Last Updated: March 13 2015
Article by Bernice I. Corman and Susan E. Golden

Responding to the "new normal" of rising sea levels and devastating coastal storms, federal authorities are re-assessing policies for preparedness, resilience, and floodplain management. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), floods are the most common and costly – and most predictable – hazard affecting communities. After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, federal resources have been dedicated not just to the immediate recovery but also to reducing flood risk in vulnerable communities over the longer term, with an emphasis on regional and inter-agency coordination in planning and management. Two of these initiatives involve guidance and regulations that are now available for public comment until April.

New Standards for Federal Actions in Floodplains

On January 30, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13690 establishing a new federal flood risk management standard (FFRMS, or Standard), essentially a heightened level of resilience against climate impacts, for federal actions occurring in or affecting floodplains. The new Standard is intended to "ensure that agencies expand management from the current base flood level to a higher vertical elevation and corresponding horizontal floodplain." EO 13690, Section 1. The EO specifically calls on federal agencies to update their flood risk reduction standards, and broadens to the national stage the work begun by the Hurricane Sandy Task Force to build back smarter.

Although FEMA announced three years ago that it would build climate change impacts into its disaster preparedness planning, the bulk of federal agencies continue to use historic flood data when planning buildings, roads, and infrastructure. Moving forward, agencies may use one of four approaches to establish a floodplain:

  • the area that results from using the best available climate informed data and methods, and considering whether the action is 'critical;'
  • the area that is two feet above the 100-year (or 1%-annual-chance) flood elevation, or three feet above, for 'critical actions;'
  • the area subject to the 500-year (or 0.2%-annual-chance) flood elevation; or
  • the area resulting from such other method as identified in a FFRMS update.

A 'critical action' includes "any activity for which even a slight chance of flooding is too great.." Id., Section 2(j).

EO 13690 (confusingly) directs FEMA, on behalf of a multi-agency task force, to issue guidance to agencies on implementing EO 11988 (a 1977 Order on Floodplain Management), as amended by EO 13690; and directs agencies to issue or amend existing regulations to comply with EO 13690, upon the guidance's being finalized after public comment. EO 13690 also directs the task force to update the FFRMS no less frequently than once every five years.

Comment Period on Draft FEMA Guidance

Simultaneously with the President's issuance of the EO, FEMA released draft revised guidelines for implementation of EO 11988, as amended by EO 13690. The comment period on the draft revised guidelines ends April 6, 2015. The guidelines emphasize integration of the new Standard in NEPA analyses, and recognition of the public benefits derived from restoring and preserving floodplains.

National Flood Insurance Program

EO 13690 makes no significant changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), except to require that agencies that guarantee, approve, regulate, or insure any financial transactions under the NFIP inform private parties participating in the transaction of the hazards of locating in areas subject to the 100-year flood.

Tools for Analyzing and Addressing Flood Risk

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recently reported to Congress on the increasing flood risk to communities along the North Atlantic coast that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. The North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study: Resilient Adaptation to Increasing Risk provides a framework for those communities to collaborate on long-term, pre-storm strategies to protect vulnerable populations, infrastructure and resources. The Study emphasizes the need for an approach that includes "non-structural, natural and nature-based systems," which may be contrary to older policies, ordinances and codes.

The Comprehensive Study presents a three-tiered methodology for identifying flood risk and strategies for reducing that risk and promoting resilience. Tier 1, completed as part of the Study, is a regional scale analysis. Conceptual Tier 2 evaluations for nine States and the District of Columbia were also completed as part of the Study. Tier 3 would be local, more detailed evaluations leading to selection of a particular plan or project. USACE and other technical products are provided for each step – e.g., a comprehensive report of environmental and cultural conditions for the North Atlantic Region that can be used for environmental review purposes, an extreme water levels report for sea level change scenarios, etc.

The Study found that "pre-disaster planning and mitigation can save communities approximately 75 percent of post-storm costs." In pre-storm planning, the Study emphasizes the need for collaborative leadership and integrated financial investments across multiple levels of government and private institutions. The Study also suggests methods for overcoming existing barriers to achieving the goal of reducing risk, including working toward consistency in risk/resilience standards, improvements in communication and outreach, simplification of coastal programs, and development of shared science, engineering, and technology resources.

The Comprehensive Study is aligned with a series of federal and local initiatives, strategies and reports undertaken since 2009, leading to a "new paradigm" in disaster preparedness that is adapted to changing climate conditions.

Comment Period on USACE Rulemaking

USACE provides supplemental technical assistance to state, local, and tribal governments in six main areas of emergency response: disaster preparedness, emergency operations, rehabilitation, emergency water supplies, drought assistance, and advanced measures (emergency response to an imminent threat of unusual flooding). USACE is proposing changes to its policies to "incorporate information from recent storm events" such as Hurricane Sandy and flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The proposed revisions are described in a recent article, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Plans to Reshape Disaster Response Programs. The comment period on the proposed rulemaking ends April 14, 2015.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions