Welcome to the Flood Zone is a nationally distributed resource for those interested in flood zone issues, land surveying, real estate, history, and educational opportunities. This newsletter has been proudly featured by the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the National Society of Professional Surveyors, and the Maine and New Hampshire Floodplain Management Programs. Please feel free to share with your friends and colleagues!

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In this Issue of Welcome to the Flood Zone:

Message from Jim
In the News: "Local, State, and Federal Experts Highlight Need for Increased Investment in Flood Mitigation"
Resources: "Flood Mitigation Measures for Multi-Family Buildings (FEMA P-2037)" and "Level Up Audio Project"
NFIP Terminology: Base Flood Elevation
Real Estate Corner: "Rising Seas Threaten an American Institution: The 30-Year Mortgage" and "The Impact Of Flood Damage On Pandemic-Era Real Estate"
History Corner: Celebrate the Bicentennial of Maine Joining the Union!
Banner Image: Flooding in central Michigan where two dams on the Titabawassee River failed during heavy rain storms this May.


Message from Jim

Technology has made it easier to make decisions and accomplish many tasks in life more efficiently. As a land surveyor starting in the industry in 1980, I was trained to measure angles using a survey transit. A magnifying glass was used to read the angle on a horizontal vernier, and distances were measured with a steel tape that needed to be adjusted for temperature. If a distance was measured along a slope using a vertical vernier, trigonometry was used to compute the horizontal distance. Today’s survey instruments allow surveyors to collect the same data, with improved accuracy and precision, with the simple push of a few buttons. But even with this technological advancement, the true value of a product comes with implementing good practice. For example, even though a land surveyor is now capable of quickly measuring between two iron pipes to hundredths of a foot, if records research and field evidence evaluation determine one of the iron pipes is incorrect, then the precision of the measurement is worthless and the resulting product will be of extremely low value.

In the world of flood, advances in technology have also changed the ease of data collection with the use of LiDAR, bathymetry boats, and data modeling software, to name a few. In similar fashion to land surveying, the quantity and quality of the data collected can be achieved much more efficiently and is often far more useful and reliable; but with technological advances, caution must be exercised. Geographic information systems (GIS), user-friendly mapping apps, and flood zone determinations by address continue to advance the flood industry, but they can also create a false perception that the gap between mapped flood risk and actual flood risk is being reduced since the technology is more advanced. This fallacy will not only strengthen current risk perceptions, but also, create new ones, some of which are yet to be defined. As a daily user of flood mapping products, it is not uncommon to identify errors or weaknesses in many of the technologies, which further support my concerns pertaining to poor risk perception.

The National Flood Insurance Program is attempting to reduce poor flood risk perceptions by replacing the binary view of flood risk with a graduated one. Binary refers to being labeled as “in” a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and subject to possible flooding, or “out” and safe from flooding. This oversimplified way of viewing flood risk has never served the program well. Risk Rating 2.0, an insurance rating initiative to implement a graduated view of risk, will be introduced in the near future.

To better understand the significance of accurate data collection and reporting, let’s look at a simple math example pertaining to significant figures: the adding of two whole numbers, 10 + 12, results in a product of 22. When divided by 2, the quotient is 11. It should never be 11.00 or 11.000, but unfortunately, such figures are often reported in municipal records and other mathematical reports where the level of data collection was never that precise. Many would assume these figures must be highly accurate due to the greater number of decimal places, when in reality it is only a setting on a computer.

Technology is neat, but it comes with limitations. Learn to question the quality of underlying data, and bring your mitigation blanket for security and warmth. Mitigation effectively covers many of our oversights when underlying data is misused, misinterpreted, or altered by the creators of the new technology, and the stakeholders who use it.


In the News

Local, State, and Federal Experts Highlight Need for Increased Investment in Flood Mitigation

By: Forbes Tompkins, The PEW Charitable Trusts, June 22, 2020

Only weeks into the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, three named storms have this year off to a fast start. This is unwelcome news for many communities looking to limit the impacts of disasters such as hurricanes and flooding. To help identify key challenges and potential solutions, The Pew Charitable Trusts recently hosted a webinar, “Investing in Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Mitigation—Why It Matters More Now Than Ever.” The session featured a panel of experts with deep knowledge of evidence-based solutions to counter the growing problem of flood-related disasters, which have cost our country more than $845 billion since 2000.

Read more!




Flood Mitigation Measures for Multi-Family Buildings (FEMA P-2037)

This October 2019 publication provides guidance on flood risk evaluation and mitigation of large multi-family buildings, particularly in urban areas. The target audience is building owners, designers, investors, builders/contractors, institutional partners, housing agencies and residents, property and facility managers responsible for operating, designing, constructing, or maintaining multi-family buildings, and local officials responsible for enforcing floodplain management regulations or building codes.

The focus of the publication is mid-rise and high-rise buildings, although many of the approaches could be applied to low-rise buildings. To help develop and implement a comprehensive mitigation approach, this publication describes the steps and process for developing and applying a mitigation strategy by describing the floodplain management regulatory framework, the process for determining flood risk, potential mitigation measures to address that risk, and information on flood insurance considerations. This publication also provides example scenarios of mitigation strategies for existing multi-family buildings.

Click here to download a PDF of the Overview of FEMA P-2037, or download the complete NFIP publication.

LEVEL UP low res

Level Up Audio Project

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region IX produced the Level Up Audio Project to share stories, case studies, and best practices to inspire hazard mitigation action and strengthen our community of hazard mitigation and climate adaptation professionals. As a resource to state and local governments on climate adaptation and resilience, the Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) partnered with FEMA Region IX to make the audio series available.

Learn more!


NFIP Terminology:

Base Flood Elevation

The Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is the computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood. The Base Flood is what is commonly referred to as the 1% annual chance flood and it determines the extent of the Special Flood Hazard Area. Base Flood Elevations are shown on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and on flood profiles.

The BFE is the regulatory requirement for the elevation or floodproofing of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure's elevation determines the flood insurance premium.

for sale

Real Estate Corner

Rising Seas Threaten an American Institution: The 30-Year Mortgage

By: Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times, June 19, 2020

Home buyers are increasingly using mortgages that make it easier for them to stop making their monthly payments and walk away from the loan if the home floods or becomes unsellable or unlivable. More banks are getting buyers in coastal areas to make bigger down payments — often as much as 40 percent of the purchase price, up from the traditional 20 percent — a sign that lenders have awakened to climate dangers and want to put less of their own money at risk.

Read more!

The Impact Of Flood Damage On Pandemic-Era Real Estate

By: Matt Malone, Forbes, June 5, 2020

This article looks at Kansas City, Missouri as an example of how real estate markets are adjusting to the pandemic during a time when flood risk is high. It explores the impact of flood on home sales and how much rain it takes to damage a property.

The real estate market in Kansas City has been shaped by high demand and low inventory. According to Zillow, the median price per square foot has been on an upward trend since 2013, while the average length of listing time has been declining.

I predict that this momentum from the past seven years will likely sustain property values and housing desirability, even as COVID-19 upends the way that real estate transactions are conducted.

Read more!


"Float #5" in Portland's Maine Centennial parade carried Fort St. George settlers. The fort was erected by George Popham, represented in front. Popham established the short-lived Popham colony, the first English settlement in New England.

History Corner

Celebrate the Bicentennial of Maine Joining the Union!

June 26 through July 5 marks a celebration of history in the State of Maine. During the 1920 centennial, the 10-day festivities featured parades, music, and other exhibitions. Check out these resources to learn more about the Centennial Celebration in 1920.

Coastal History: Maine’s Centennial Celebration (Portland Press Herald, December 14, 2019)

One Hundredth Anniversary of Maine's Entrance into the Union: Official Program of State Celebration, Portland, June 26th to July 5th 1920. (Bangor Public Library, 1920)

Vintage Maine Images

While most of the celebrations organized for 2020 have been cancelled due to COVID-19, you can learn more and stay up to date through the official Maine 200 Bicentennial website!


July Flood Funny

Back in 2016, the Miami Herald published a story on how flooding from a King Tide brought an unexpected visitor into a parking garage. Associate biology professor, Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, from the University of Miami examined the scene:

When the drainage pipes in these buildings were designed, they were safely above the high-water marks, she said, but rising seas mean the pipes are now partially submerged during extreme high tides. And with water comes sea life, starting with fish. A drainage pipe combines two of an octopus’ favorite things, Sealey said — a meal and a cramped, dark space to crawl into. The ocean dweller was likely curled up inside the drain when the king tide forced it out and onto the garage floor, she said.

Click here to read the full story.

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