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New report confirms FEMA flood maps are “very” outdated


We've seen the power of rising floodwaters and the ripple effects it can cause on homes and Middle Tennessean's days, months, and even years down the road.
Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 7:31 AM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - We’ve seen the power of rising floodwaters and the ripple effects it can cause on homes and Middle Tennessean’s days, months, and even years down the road.

A new report confirms this is a growing problem and addresses the need to prevent future flood hazards.

News4 obtained a copy of the report, published by the Government Accountability Office, also known as GAO. The GAO provides Congress, the heads of executive agencies, and the public with timely, fact-based, non-partisan information that can be used to improve government and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

The new report confirms what News4 Investigates reported over a year ago: FEMA’s flood maps are often outdated and need major upgrades.

“Flood maps have been around for a long time, and what we’re finding is over time, I think they’re really becoming very outdated and not as useful because of a number of things. One is, some of them are very, very old. As you can imagine, mapping the entire country and updating those maps, all of the time is very expensive and very time consuming,” Chris Currie, Director of Homeland Security and Justice team with GAO said. “They may not actually and realistically account for flood risks.”

Currie added that areas near urban communities tend to be updated faster than rural towns. Currie said part of the problem is that updating these maps is costly. Plus, the constant threat from mother nature poses a massive issue as well.

The big problem now is what we call future risk or climate change. We’ve identified and recommended that FEMA needs to do a much better job at considering the future risks in these places, or else, we’re just going to keep getting surprised by these kinds of things.

“This is what we’re seeing across the country in places like Tennessee, but other places that are flooding more and more frequently because of heavy rain events,” Currie said. “It used to be, when you thought about flooding in this country, you thought about the Mississippi River and Iowa and places like that. What we’re seeing today is a lot more heavy rainfall flooding, that’s flooding places that haven’t been flooded before.”

Currie said many of those places are not considered hazard flood zones and are not covered by flood insurance. In their report, GAO recommends that FEMA:

  1. update its Risk MAP program plan to identify goals, time frames, and other elements related to its efforts to reflect current and future flood hazards
  2. develop mechanisms to assess the usefulness of its nonregulatory flood risk products
  3. consider ways to leverage its flood risk data to help prioritize its mapping investment decisions.

GAO also mentioned that the Department of Homeland Security concurred with their recommendations.

FEMA declined our request for an interview on the GAO report but released this statement.

“FEMA concurred with all three of the GAO’s recommendations. The GAO’s recommendations will be valuable to help us enhance our ability to identify flood risk and promote informed planning and development practices that reduce risk through Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning.”

Recommendations both the GAO and FEMA hope to prevent Tennessee Homeowners from becoming victims of flood disasters in the future.

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