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From the ASFPM Director's Desk
Monday, October 29, 2018

Chad Berginnis, CFM
Executive Director, ASFPM

2018 – The Year of Hazard Mitigation?

Of course in the flood business, a lot has happened in 2018. But a decade or two down the road, I wonder if looking back at 2018 we would conclude that this year we turned the page and made hazard mitigation a priority at least at the federal level. Let’s look back on a few of the bigger events:

In February we had the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which included a Federal Cost Share Reform Incentive that encourages states to adopt the latest building codes and incentivizes states to invest in community resiliency. FEMA has one year to provide guidance to states. Basically this is a variation of a concept long championed by ASFPM – implementing a sliding cost-share based on states taking actions to become more flood resilient. A blog from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety on the details of the incentive can be found here.

Then in May, FEMA released its updated strategic plan for 2018-2022. The first goal, Build a Culture of Preparedness. But the three objectives under it really speak to hazard mitigation:

  • 1.1 Incentivize investments that reduce risk, including pre-disaster mitigation and reduce disaster costs at all levels
  • 1.2 Close the insurance gap
  • 1.4 Better learn from past disasters, improve continuously and innovate

ASFPM was invited to participate in strategic planning feedback sessions and our representatives were largely impressed with the focus and implications for hazard mitigation.

Then, and drum roll please, Congress passed and the president signed the most significant reform to FEMA’s mitigation programs since the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) was signed by President Trump Oct. 5, 2018.

There are many provisions in this new law that has a bearing on hazard mitigation (most good and a couple that are bad). For this column, though, I want to focus on Section 1234, which are the reforms to FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program.

The first big change is the authorization of new technical and financial assistance category for the establishment and carrying out enforcement activities. And to establish and to implement the latest published editions of relevant consensus based codes, specifications and standards that incorporate the latest hazard-resistant designs. It also established minimum acceptable criteria for the design, construction and maintenance of residential structures and facilities that may be eligible for assistance under the Stafford Act.

The following information was in a recent blog by the CEO of the International Code Council, which provides some justification for the new code establishment and enforcement activities:

Yet for all the progress that has been made since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S., many jurisdictions are still applying outdated codes or do not enforce a building code at all. In states where I-Codes adoption and enforcement is performed at the local level, 16% of the population lives in communities with codes that are at least nine years old and at least 2 million people live in communities with codes that are at least 15 years old. Eight states with statewide code requirements are on building codes that are nine or more years old. These states cover nearly a quarter of the U.S. population. Lack of resources is the primary reason communities do not update their codes to more recent editions or enforce the codes they have in place. The Code Council has heard this directly from communities, states and territories.

The second big change is that FEMA will have the authority to withdraw pre-disaster mitigation financial assistance made available to a state that remains unobligated by the end of the third fiscal year after the fiscal year in which it was obligated and redistribute it on a competitive basis to states that had received a major disaster declaration in the previous seven years.

The third big change is that FEMA adds two new criteria for PDM award assistance: 1) The extent to which the state, local, tribal or territorial (SLTT) government has facilitated the adoption and enforcement of the latest published editions of relevant consensus-based codes, specifications and standards, including amendments made by SLTT governments during the adoption process that incorporate the latest hazard-resistant designs and establish criteria for the design, construction and maintenance of residential structures and facilities that may be eligible for assistance under this Act for the purpose of protecting the health, safety and general welfare of the buildings’ users against disasters; and 2) the extent to which the assistance will fund activities that increase the level of resiliency.

Later in the section, Congress defined the term “latest published editions.” It means with respect to relevant consensus based codes and standards, the two most recently published editions. Therefore, by the time FEMA implements the new program, assuming in CY 2019, the two most recent editions of the International Codes would be 2015 and 2018. The allowance for the two latest editions sunsets after five years and if no changes were made in law, the latest published editions would be literally the latest edition.

Finally, the fourth big change is to change the funding formula for PDM to be an amount equal to 6% of the estimated aggregate amounts of many of the FEMA disaster costs (IA, PA, etc.). So what does this really mean? Well, if this law were in effect in 2017, then the amount available for PDM in 2018 would have been over $1 billion! Can you imagine that? A caution though. The authority is permissive, not mandatory. It says the “president may…” What does this mean? Might the administration’s budget not include a PDM program in future years as Congress focuses on debt reduction? We will need to be keeping an eye on that moving forward.

Of course all of this means that we all have a lot of work to do! FEMA has more than 50 new sections of laws to address from the DRRA, in addition to guidance like that from the Bipartisan Budget Act. States need to be aware of the new “systems” of incentives and disincentives and take appropriate actions to best position the state and communities to take advantage of the resources made available, and communities especially need to consider applying for mitigation funds and develop eligible hazard mitigation projects. We may be seeing an unprecedented amount of funding available for hazard mitigation projects, but it starts with a viable project!

With all of this, the devil will be in the details! I can commit to all of you that ASFPM will continue to be engaged with FEMA and our partners to ensure our voice will be heard in policy development going forward. If 2018 is the year of mitigation, then perhaps in 2019 and beyond, we will see real progress in community flood loss reduction.

Your partner in loss reduction,

Chad






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