...“buy down risk.” One side says that when FEMA designates flood hazard areas, it discourages economic development, while the other side says insurance programs encourage development, Knight notes. Yet a third concern is the “affordability piece”—who should pay for risk at the end of the day? If a home-owner is barely able to pay his mortgage, adding a flood insurance premium on top of that can be a hardship.

Sandra Knight

Last fall, the current National Flood Insurance Program Act was extended for one year to September 2011, when it will be up again for reauthorization. Knight says, “We’re getting a lot of interest on the Hill about what Congress would like to change in the program, so FEMA is being proactive about what we think would be good changes.” She says a reform working group is engaging partners and stakeholders around the country to examine four broad policy alternatives. One has to do with privatization: What would it take for private industry to be able to insure floods? Another looks at community policies: Is there a way for communities to be able to pay for their risk? Another looks at how the existing program could be optimized, and the fourth is a fully federally subsidized program.

Another speaker looked at flood hazards strictly from an avoidance perspective. Davenport, Iowa, administrator Craig Malin presented his city’s 15-plus-year mitigation program that has gradually removed structures from floodplains and floodways to create a public river park. Instead of levees or other structural protection, Davenport moves habitations out of the river’s natural path.

The insurance community has a clear link to disaster mitigation and recently funded and built a $40-million test center in Chester County, S.C., through the Institute for Business & Home Safety. Julie Rochman, president and CEO, said, “It’s mind-boggling that we don’t spend more time on prevention.” The new test center, she adds, enables insurers to “inject some science into the dialogue.” The center’s side-by-side tests of two full-scale houses on Oct. 19, 2010, showed that “regionally appropriate fortified standards” that go beyond minimum codes make the difference between safety and destruction. Future plans include testing structures against hail storms and research into the ember storms of wildfires, Rochman adds.

Upcoming events about disaster mitigation include a May 18 meeting of the National Building Museum’s Industry Council on the Built Environment about design, technology and resiliency. Further, the 28th annual National Flood Conference will be held in New Orleans on May 1-4, 201 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.