WASINGTON, DC — The Senate Banking Committee today gave its stamp of approval to legislation authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to improve the maps the federal government uses to predict the risk of flooding. Reed's mapping legislation was included in the committee-approved Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007, and is a cornerstone of the bill.

"The federal government needs to provide Americans with the most accurate data that reflects coastal flooding hazards from hurricanes and other natural events," said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Banking Committee. "Unfortunately, today's federal coastal flood maps do not reflect the real flood hazard risks. New development has significantly altered watersheds and floodplains. Knowing if you need flood insurance can mean the difference between having no money to rebuild and having $250,000."

FEMA's flood maps are the basic tools to determine flood hazard areas in the United States. Mortgage lending institutions use the maps to determine who is required to purchase flood insurance. Community planning officials, land developers, and engineers use the maps for designing new buildings and infrastructure to be safe from flooding.

"It is imperative to evaluate how we plan, mitigate, and respond to natural disasters," stated Reed. "Hurricanes and floods have occurred throughout history and will continue to occur. We must make sure that Rhode Island families know their risk."

Reed's legislation, the National Flood Mapping Act of 2007, would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to modernize maps and update to include:

  • The 100- year and 500-year floodplain;
  • Areas that could be inundated as a result of the failure of a levee or dam; and,
  • Areas that could be inundated by a coastal storm surge from a hurricane.

The bill requires FEMA to work with local and state partners to ensure that maps are adequate to make flood risk determinations and useful in their effort to provide for development to reduce the risk of flooding. FEMA is also required to make the maps available on the agency's website in a digital, user-friendly format. The bill authorizes $400 million for FEMA flood mapping for each year from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2013.

Coastal development and its affects on floodplains are not accurately reflected in FEMA coastal flood maps. In addition, these maps do not include information on coastal flooding reflected in the Army Corps of Engineers' inundation maps or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coastal storm surge maps. This is important information needed by the public to assess their risks.

The National Flood Insurance Program was created to minimize the damage and financial impact of floods with the public by making coastal flood insurance available on reasonable terms and encouraging its purchase. But, according to the RAND Corporation, participation rates in flood-prone areas reach just 50 percent. In a floodplain, a homeowner is more likely to have a flood than a fire. Yet, all homeowners have fire insurance.