Those FEMA Flood Maps Aren’t Going to Update Themselves


New Yorkers denied help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Sandy flooded their homes already know firsthand that the agency–and the way the country deals with extreme weather–is in trouble. But a grim report put out late last week by ProPublica shows that another crucial FEMA project is slowing down after seeing cut after cut after cut: updating flood maps.

Updating FEMA’s flood maps has been an ongoing project for years, but in the wake of disasters like Sandy, the tools are needed now. FEMA’s flood zones determine insurance rates and building codes–if insurance companies are working off of maps that are two decades old, the risk assessment for your home is likely to be out of whack. Yet the ProPublica report shows that since 2010, Congress has slashed more than half its funding for updating flood maps–and that President Obama’s last budget request asked for another $16 million cut:

In a little-noticed written response to questions from a congressional hearing, FEMA estimated the cuts would delay its map program by three to five years. The program “will continue to make progress, but more homeowners will rely on flood hazard maps that are not current,” FEMA wrote.

The cuts have slowed efforts to update flood maps across the country.

While FEMA stepped on it to produce drafts of updated maps for New York and New Jersey in the wake of Sandy, critics have pointed out some serious gaps in the agency’s accounting. For example, the updated maps didn’t take into account the fact that New York City’s sea level could rise five feet by the end of the century, nor did they factor in information from Hurricane Sandy–even though the destruction didn’t fall neatly within the new flood zones.

FEMA told ProPublica that cuts wouldn’t slow down the progress made in New York–but if progress means working off old data, realistic flood maps for the city could be put off even longer.

[h/t ProPublica, InsideClimate, Daily News]