Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps used to set insurance rates may be facing an overhaul if FEMA follows the advice from the National Research Council (NRC). A new report from the NRC says significant loss of life, destroyed property and businesses, and repairs to infrastructure could be avoided by replacing current FEMA flood maps with ones that contain high-accuracy and high-resolution land surface elevation data. NRC concludes benefits of more accurate flood maps will outweigh the costs, mainly because insurance premiums and building restrictions would better match the actual flood risks.

After analyzing FEMA's Map Modernization Program of 2003 to 2008, FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked the NRC to conduct the study. The modernization program resulted in digital flood maps for 92% of the continental U.S. population, most of which lives in areas that had outdated maps or no maps at all. However, after a $1 billion investment, only 21% of the population has maps that meet all of FEMA's data quality standards.

For the study, NRC examined the factors that affect flood map accuracy; assessed the costs and benefits of producing more accurate maps, and recommended ways to improve mapping, communication and management of flood-related data.

The costs for improving flood maps would come from collecting, updating, modeling and analyzing the flood-related data; increasing construction of property and businesses; losing land to development; updating regulations; and informing the public of changes, according to the NRC, which also emphasizes that better maps would enable more accurate pricing.

The study goes on to say, while improvements to inland flood maps can focus on harnessing available technology, coastal flood maps could be improved by employing better models that enhance understanding of the coastal flooding process.

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