EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – July 7, 2004

Modernizing FEMA's Flood Hazard Mapping Program
An Overview

Scott McAfee
GIS Coordinator, Mitigation Division
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Department of Homeland Security

Avagene Moore, CEM
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased to see you in our audience today. Today's topic is "Modernizing FEMA's Flood Hazard Mapping Program: An Overview."

Now it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker. Scott McAfee is the GIS coordinator for the Mitigation Division of FEMA in Washington, D.C. He helps to develop policy and coordinate the geospatial information aspects of a number of FEMA activities and programs, including HazardMaps.gov; Emergency Management Map Symbology; HAZUS; and Flood Map Modernization.

Before FEMA, Scott worked for the California Office of Emergency Services where he utilized GIS for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. He also serves on the Federal Geographic Data Committee's Coordination and Homeland Security Groups.

This is Scott's second presentation in the EIIP Virtual Forum. He presented a fine session for us a few months back on Map Symbology. Scott, we thank you for being here today to share an important overview with the EIIP Virtual Forum audience.


Scott McAfee: Thanks, Ava. Hello and welcome to all! It's nice to be back in the Forum.

As most in the Forum know, accurate information about risks is the first step in preventing and reducing losses. In emergency management, risk information is key to mitigation. Mitigation is the ongoing efforts to lessen the impact disasters have on people's lives and property. Today, many of the Nation’s flood maps reflect outdated data, severely limiting their usefulness.

To support its vision, "A Nation Prepared," the Federal Emergency Management Agency, (FEMA) has embarked on an aggressive campaign called Map Modernization to update the Nation’s flood hazard maps. The President and Congress have challenged FEMA to transform the Nation’s flood maps into a more accurate, easier-to-use, and readily available product. Updated, Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or DFIRMs, will become the platform for identifying multiple hazards. These maps will feed a premier geospatial system whose infrastructure will allow management of a dynamic array of data, applications and processes. Users will access this system through the web.

An important aspect of Map Modernization is the alliance of civic organizations, private entities, and all levels of government that play a role in disaster preparedness and response. By developing and maintaining effective partnerships; leveraging resources; and using defined "best practices," all citizens will benefit from the development of a comprehensive disaster protection plan.

Another goal of Map Modernization is to better inform the public—from community officials, to insurance agents, to home and business owners. We plan to get the word out about Map Modernization and the positive changes that will come.

To measure the effectiveness of the Map Modernization process, we will have a Program Management team monitoring measurable results against established goals.

Map Modernization is a huge undertaking, and the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA can't do it alone. It requires technology, partnerships, community participation, and effective Program Management. It's essential for us to leverage America's talent and expertise to accomplish this monumental task.


Our vision for Map Modernization entails providing flood maps and data for communities nationwide that are more accurate, easier-to-use, and readily available.

FEMA’s vision for Map Modernization contains the following four key areas:

  1. Network the Nation using the latest Internet portal technology to provide access to general flood hazard, risk, and mitigation information, and convert the maps from a paper to a digital format. The information will be tailored to the needs of specific partners, stakeholders, and users.

  2. Maximize the use of Federal, State, and local resources and transfer ownership and use of maps and data to the State and local levels by building and maintaining effective partnerships with State, regional, and community entities in the development of the maps and data. We will build further capability and increase the number of partnerships through the Cooperating Technical Partners Program.

  3. Reduce processing time and costs for map updates by implementing results-oriented systems and standards that will facilitate the rapid exchange of data between our partners, staff, and contractors. Our systems and standards will allow the data to flow seamlessly between and among our partners and our staff and contractors.

  4. Communicate widely, effectively, consistently, and continuously to maximize partners’, stakeholders’, and users’ understanding of flood hazards and the risks posed to life and property.

Who benefits from Map Modernization?

Map Modernization benefits everyone. An estimated 30 million Americans are at high risk from flooding, and almost every American is at some degree of flood risk. Additionally, flood maps are used an estimated 20 million times annually. Communities and developers use flood maps to determine safe areas in which to build. Insurance agents and lenders use flood maps to determine which properties are flood prone. Home and business owners use flood maps to determine their flood risk and protect their property. By committing to this multi-year mapping effort, the Nation will save an estimated $45 billion dollars over the next 50 years.

Create A Premier Geospatial System

The goal is to implement a nationwide, cutting edge Geographic Information System infrastructure available on the Internet that allows management of a dynamic array of data, applications, and processes. The geospatial platform will support local officials as they are required to make critical decisions with regard to asset management, economic development, planning, floodplain management, and zoning and building code enforcement. The geospatial platform will serve the following functions:

  1. Repository: The geospatial platform will be the repository for the national Geographic Information System (GIS) data layer. It will not only store the final DFIRM data, but also intermediate data, which will include the outputs of key steps used to create the DFIRM data. This will include scoping, survey, elevation, hydrology and hydraulics modeling data, Base Flood Elevations (BFEs), flood outlines, and other pertinent data. In addition, the geospatial platform will include a "federation" feature; if data are stored elsewhere, the geospatial platform will direct users to where the data are maintained, for instance at a local level, rather than duplicating data.

  2. Workflow: The geospatial platform will contain the flood mapping process embedded in a workflow engine, from needs assessment through final DFIRM production. Floodplain administrators, communities, Study Contractors, and those involved with the mapping process will be able to follow the status of flood mapping projects. The geospatial platform will have a "rollup system" that allows users to sort projects by schedule, cost, issue, and other factors. The geospatial platform will allow up-to-date communication among Study Contractors, communities, FEMA, and MOD Team members. The workflow system also will collect the intermediate and final data, not allowing a project to progress until required data are collected.

  3. Training: The geospatial platform will provide an e-Learning system that will include information about using the platform and information about flood mapping. This will be particularly useful because the additional funding now available for flood mapping means that new surveyors and engineers will be entering the flood mapping field. This training material will help to communicate common vocabulary, methods, and procedures.

  4. Tools: The geospatial platform will not require any particular tool to create data, as long as the data are submitted in accordance with established standards (which will be specified in the platform). The geospatial platform will provide a standard set of tools for those who wish to use them. These tools will be tested against geospatial platform data interchange standards to ensure compatibility, and they will cover the entire flood mapping process, from needs assessment through final DFIRM production. The first toolset is called WISE, and covers the mapping process from survey through flood layer identification. The second toolset is called PLTS, and covers the process through final DFIRM production. The only software required to use these tools is a web browser. The tools download a CITRIX client that then allows users to access the tools.

  5. Quality Checks: The geospatial platform will perform quality checks of data to catch common errors. This includes checking form and format, as well as ensuring that the BFE upstream is not lower than the BFE downstream. This will ensure high-quality data, saving time and funds.

  6. Outreach: The geospatial platform will include a public Web site where citizens can access flood hazard information for their community. The geospatial platform will include an extensive library of materials focused on flood hazards. It will include useful information for homeowners enabling the reduction of flood hazard risks for their property.

Increase Partnerships

Exchanging risk information with State and local partners is integral for the success of Map Modernization; partnerships provide the opportunity to pool resources and extend the value of public funds. State and local ownership of maps reinforces widespread participation in the program, and offers the benefits of shared best practices. The Cooperating Technical Partners (CTP) Program is an innovative, collaborative approach among FEMA, participating NFIP communities, and regional and State agencies that have the expertise to become active participants in flood hazard mapping.

CTPs enter into an agreement with FEMA that formalizes their contribution and commitment to help ensure their flood maps are accurate, up-to-date, and reflect current conditions. Because FEMA funding for flood studies is limited, the object of the CTP Program is to leverage available funding to obtain more mapping with the available resources. National mapping needs determine FEMA funding priorities, but locally funded activities can be initiated at any time. Federal funding is managed by the FEMA Regional Offices and provided through a cooperative agreement.

The objectives of the CTP Program are the following:

  1. Allow FEMA partners who are actively working to identify and map their flood risk, to incorporate this information into the official FEMA flood hazard information.
  2. Maximize limited funding by combining resources and aligning objective of FEMA and the CTP.
  3. Maintain national standards consistent with NFIP regulations and objectives.

The benefits of becoming a CTP include the following:

  1. Local maps equal FEMA maps. Ongoing local activities can be harmonized with FEMA regulations and specifications and incorporated directly into official NFIP flood hazard information.
  2. Opportunity to share resources with FEMA to make better maps.
  3. Local activities can benefit from closer coordination with FEMA, adoption of FEMA standards, and better access to existing FEMA data.
  4. FEMA training, technical assistance, and mentoring will assist capable communities in meeting FEMA standards and improving local products.
  5. Collaborative efforts with FEMA accomplish more than independent efforts.

More information on the CTP Program and a self assessment to determine whether the CTP Program is a good fit for you and your community or organization is available online at www.fema.gov/fhm/ctp_main.shtm.

Inform the User Community

In addition to updating flood maps, every American needs to know the true flood hazards they face so they can make informed risk management decisions. To do this, information about hazards need to be accurate, accessible, and understandable to a wide range of stakeholders and partners. Map Modernization will use current GIS technology that will update map data, allow faster future revisions, and make data more easily and widely available.

To realize the full, long-lasting benefit of modernized maps, the user community must be expanded and better informed about the Map Modernization and its benefits. We will foster public and stakeholder understanding of whether to obtain hazard data and how to use the data to make sound decisions to reduce their vulnerability to hazards. The public information campaign must be implemented at both the national and local levels. FEMA will provide a central, comprehensive, and interactive outreach campaign that is implemented locally while maintaining national consistency.

To meet FEMA’s outreach goals, we have the following objectives:

  • Establish and maintain a central platform that supports the development, digital conversion, and adoption of flood maps
  • Build on existing resources and established functions and transform them to adhere to new, innovative solutions
  • Promote understanding of Map Modernization’s products, services, and benefits
  • Respond to requests at the program and mapping levels
  • Increase awareness, participation, and support

One good example of how we will promote Map Modernization and answering floodplain mapping questions is the FEMA Map Assistance Center (FMAC). The FMAC informs the public of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) rules and regulations. Map Specialists respond to inquiries from officials and the general public, and educate callers on the requirements necessary to meet NFIP criteria. The FMAC disseminates this information and helps callers understand the technical issues of the NFIP. FMAC representatives also handle map revision inquiries from surveyors, engineers, lenders, insurance agents, appraisers, and floodplain managers.

Achieve Effective Program Management

FEMA will monitor management data to determine effectiveness, implement continuous improvement activities, and measure program success. Using technology to make flood map production more efficient, FEMA and our mapping partners will use simplified processes nationwide to meet the goals of Map Modernization. Using re-engineered flood mapping processes and management tools, FEMA will make sure that projects are on time and on budget. FEMA’s continually improving program management structure serves to motivate partners to share responsibilities and aligns partner missions to ensure high-quality flood maps and reduce the Nation’s vulnerability to flood and other hazards.

Role of MOD Team

To support Map Modernization, FEMA chose a National Service Provider (NSP) known as the Mapping On Demand (MOD) Team. The MOD Team helps FEMA with all aspects of Map Modernization—map production, map adoption, outreach activities, Program Management, and creation of the geospatial platform.

MOD Team activities are carried out at both the national and regional level:

MOD Team Headquarters

National activities are managed at the MOD Team headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and are funded by the National contract. Primary responsibilities at the national level include the following:

Program Management – Maintain up-to-date status of projects and initiatives across the nation and align program progress with FEMA performance metrics.

Reporting – Periodically report the status and progress of the Map Modernization Program to FEMA, Department of Homeland Security and Congressional leaders.

Technology and tools – Provide the data management framework, tools and processes to facilitate the completion and tracking of program activitie

Planning – Budgeting and scheduling necessary resources to meet FEMA objectives (metrics)

Outreach and Partnerships – Develop and maintain outreach materials and assist Regions (and RMCs) in developing and enhancing partnerships with other Federal Agencies (OFAs) and non-Federal partners.

Engineering and Mapping Standardization and QC – Document standards for data development and submittal, provide access to training on methods and tools, and provide quality control reviews to ensure that submitted data meets the specifications.

The MOD Team headquarters staff is organized into the following groups: Program Management Office, Information Technology, Customer Care Center, Engineering/Mapping.

Regional Management Centers

The Regional Management Centers (RMCs) have been established to support Map Modernization by providing program management services on a regional level. They are the eyes and ears of the National Service Provider and located in close proximity to FEMA’s Regional Offices. Primary responsibilities of each RMC include the following:

Monitor and manage activities related to the development of DFIRM map coverage, the map adoption and the ordinance revision process for all communities in the region

Encourage and enable delegation of engineering and mapping activities under the NFIP to CTPs

Act as a local liaison between the NSP resources and regional partners and customers, including FEMA Regional staff, CTPs, cities and counties, contractors and property owners

Implement outreach activities within the guidelines of the national strategy to increase the local participation in the map modernization program and to facilitate the acceptance of the NFIP map products, programs, and policies.

Assist in the map modernization process, where appropriate, for individual projects.

To meet the four Map Modernization objectives, the following major tasks have been identified as essential functions in the RMCs:

Business Management - Develop and manage RMC operations

Project Management - Plan, monitor and manage study progress, DFIRM production and community adoption of revised maps

Regional Support – Perform study and mapping work, post-preliminary processing, community coordination, or provide other support to FEMA staff, as needed and/or requested by the Region

DFIRM Production – Production of the final version of the Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map

Training/Outreach – Activities to facilitate delegation of NFIP responsibility to CTPs and to increase the awareness and acceptance of NFIP programs by property owners.

Support the Multi-Hazard Implementation Plan (MHIP) – The Multi-Hazard Implementation Plan (MHIP) provides a vision for mapping our Nation’s flood hazards for 2004 through 2008. MHIP will support planning and decision making processes, improve communication between FEMA and mapping partners, and clearly report the progress of Map Modernization.

How Can You Contribute?

Map Modernization is a collaborative process and a new way of doing business for government officials, cutting across all layers of government. Officials and other stakeholders will be active participants in the mapping process (e.g., collecting, updating, and adopting data). Engineering companies will be contracted on a local level to do the mapping and determine where the high, medium, and low flood risk zones are located. Maps will be reviewed and adopted by the local government and FEMA. Leveraging partnerships will allow States and communities to choose their level of involvement.

Everyone is a stakeholder and has a role to play in Map Modernization. Whether you are a government official or a homeowner, a study contractor or an insurance agent, a land developer or a flood zone determination company, your involvement is key to Map Modernization and an essential step in preventing and reducing losses.

Thank you for your time and attention. I am available for your questions. I now turn the floor back to our Moderator.

Avagene Moore: Thank you very much, Scott. That was an excellent overview of a very industrious map modernization program! I trust the audience has questions for you.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


William Cumming: The National Flood Insurance Act requires that flood maps be scientifically and technically correct. Many of the current mapping techniques were reviewed by the NAS (National Research Council)! Will this be done for this remapping effort, and do you expect litigation over the remapping effort? Who, what, where and how will the administrative record be preserved in case there is litigation? What is the role of the other technical mapping agencies in the remapping effort? (COE, USGS, NOAA, etc.)

Scott McAfee: Quite a few questions there. I'm not sure of NAS review, but I will look into it for the transcript.

Unfortunately, litigation is a fact of life in a regulatory program such as this. I think we expect this to continue but we will do our best through outreach and education to make people aware of our program and why we are doing it. Not sure of the official administrative record but data of the study process from beginning to end will be captured through the portal.

We have many federal partners in addition to the state and local ones; USGS and Army Corps of Engineers are perhaps the main ones.


Ed Kostiuk: You stated "assist in the map modernization process, where appropriate, for individual projects." Could you be more specific?

Scott McAfee: This is in the section on the role of the Regional Management Center. The RMCs are one of our contractor's (MOD) main ways of assisting our FEMA regions in implementing the program. The rubber of the program meets the road at the 10 FEMA regions and the RMCs are there to help, even down to individual projects.


Tim Rogan: What are the key metrics for measuring progress?

Scott McAfee: Perhaps Bill can help me with these. Bill Blanton is one of our mapping specialists and the lead engineer for the Central Territory. One measure of success is amount of GIS data supporting the Flood program held at the local level and shared with FEMA, for example.

Bill Blanton: The metrics we are working with to ensure success in our mapping efforts are as follows:

  • Percentage of population with digital GIS flood data available online;
  • Percentage of population with adopted maps that meet quality standards;
  • Percentage of leveraged digital GIS flood data; and
  • Percentage of funds appropriated through CTPs.


William Cumming: I understand there is no longer a direct link between insurance ratemaking and the flood maps! Will this continue, or could simplification of both maps and rates be accomplished during the remapping?

Scott McAfee: Insurance rating is still done using the flood maps to my knowledge.


Craig Knight: Have federal and local partnerships already been selected, or will there still be opportunities for local engineering firms etc to become involved?

Scott McAfee: Good question, Craig. This program will be implemented over many years and we will constantly be seeking out new partners. Generally, our CTPs are state or local government. Local engineering firms are often retained by our Regions as well as by state or local government for support. I'm sure this will be continuing through the program.


Amy Sebring: I gather that "National Mapping Needs" plays a role in setting project priorities. How are these needs identified?

Scott McAfee: Good question. There are many factors that determine the needs. For instance, age of the old maps, how much development has occurred, and the level of risk of the area (population and hazard).

Bill Blanton: Also, number of policies, and repetitive loss information.


Jaco VanZyl: How do you anticipate achieving complete coverage, i.e., for those areas where a local partner does not outright offer their assistance, due to budgets, etc.? Who will ultimately be responsible for funding new surveys?

Scott McAfee: Thanks for the question, Jaco. As was said above, we are in the process of evaluating a 5-year plan on how we will cover the nation – known as the Multi-Hazard Implementation Plan. In the out years, those partners that offer more (more data, support, etc.) will become a higher priority. Ultimately, we expect the large share of the investment to come from federal funds but we can't do it without partner contributions.

Jennifer Stephens: When did this modernization plan begin?

Scott McAfee: Before I came to FEMA. I believe (Bill, correct if wrong) it was first talked about in the mid nineties but only really got rolling in 2002-2003.

Bill Blanton: Yes, the real plan started with a report that was prepared for the previous director of FEMA in 1997.


Tim Rogan: How do you balance the metric of percentage of the population covered digitally with percentage of population with adopted maps that meet standards?

Scott McAfee: Good question. I think balance is the key word here. We feel that it is important to make digital data available, as it has many uses besides insurance rating and flood mitigation. But when it comes down to it, the best way to make sure you're reducing risk is for local governments to adopt the maps and use them for land-use decisions.


Amy Sebring: Scott, do you know if any priority will be given to Coastal V Zones, and a strategy for leveraging Corps resources identified?

Scott McAfee: Bill, can you handle Amy's question, please?

Bill Blanton: Yes. Actually we have a team working on coastal methodologies. We intentionally didn't initiate a lot of new work to study coastal areas in the first part of Map Mod so we can get a good handle on what methods should be used. Once that is done, which I think is a matter of months, the Regional offices will start to look at Coastal needs as well as riverine. Also, we are working closely with the USACE to bring our efforts together.


Isabel McCurdy: Scott, this goes along with Jaco's question. How does one ensure the integrity of information shared in the first place is accurate? What checks and balances are in place?

Scott McAfee: Good question, Isabel. Good to break this into two parts, engineering data and finished map data. For engineering data, there is a set of standards that the data will be checked against as part of the workflow. For shared finished map data, say street centerlines or orthophotos, we also have guidelines and specifications that cover how accurate these need to be. It becomes interesting in this shared or "federated" environment, especially since there is a movement for digital flood data becoming as official as the paper. We are definitely interested in ways to certify digital data for transfer, as has been suggested as one of the elements of the USGS "National Map" strategy.


Avagene Moore: That's all we have time for today. We greatly appreciate your efforts and time on our behalf today, Scott. Very informative! Thank you!

Scott McAfee: For other questions, my email is [email protected]

Avagene Moore: If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the "Partnership for You" link on our home page.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience!

The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned but before we go, please help me show our appreciation to Scott for a fine job.