How a vulnerable county is improving
Someone else who gets it is Lisa Foster, whose floodplain management team recently moved Pinellas County from a Class 5 to a Class 3 in FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS). Quite a feat for a coastal community surrounded by water! We asked her 5 questions about the achievement.
- What impact will moving from a CRS Class 5 to a Class 3 community have on Pinellas County residents with federal flood insurance policies?
Lisa: There are over 32,000 active policies in unincorporated Pinellas County. As a CRS Class 5, premium discounts of up to 25 percent were applied to these policies, which equates to over $5.6 million per year in savings. Moving to a Class 3, which is up to a 35 percent premium discount, is projected to increase the savings to almost $7.9 million per year.
- Exactly how did you and your team accomplish this?
Lisa: With the support of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, departments across the county have worked together to create a successful comprehensive Floodplain Management Program that serves our residents and businesses by ensuring affordable flood insurance rates while promoting resilient development. Under this program we implemented activities, such as
- Preservation of floodplains, such as the Brooker Creek Preserve and many other parks and preserves in coastal and riverine floodplains
- Higher floodplain development standards, like freeboard and compensatory excavation
- A drainage system maintenance program, like routine O&M and hot spots inspections and maintenance as needed before and after significant storms
- Outreach and education, such as the Flood Map Service, featuring apps for different flood risks, Real Estate Flood Disclosure Program, utility bill inserts, and coordination across the county and its municipalities through the PPI (Program for Public Information)
- Flood warning and response planning (countywide and departmental emergency response plans)
- Floodplain Management Planning
- Maintenance of flood maps and data of floodplain construction certifications to document compliance
Our increased rating is mainly attributed to meeting two Class 4 prerequisites, one requiring freeboard for all residential structures including manufactured homes and the other for Watershed Management Planning. We accomplished this by adopting a stormwater master plan and proactive watershed management planning program to ensure:
- Responsible floodplain management in areas where FEMA studies are not as detailed
- Flooding issues and potential mitigation for multiple storm frequencies are incorporated into the County’s Capital Improvement Program
- Identifying flood prone areas and natural floodplains for protection
Further, our stormwater manual provided significant credit for managing stormwater runoff quantity and rates.
- Pinellas County is a coastal community literally surrounded by water on three sides and is often listed as the most vulnerable county in Florida for flooding. Were there special considerations you needed to address to boost your CRS score? Lisa: Pinellas County recently completed a coastal vulnerability assessment and has begun to incorporate future conditions analysis into the watershed management plans. The flood hazard maps and data developed from these studies will be used to inform policy and capital planning. From a CRS perspective, these efforts will likely help the County maintain or improve on its Class 3 rating.
- Can you provide an example of an action an individual property owner had to take to help improve the CRS rating?
Lisa: Individual property owners are encouraged to use the county flood map service to find out what their flood risks are and make sure they have a plan in place. That plan needs to also consider financial preparedness. They should know what is covered by their insurance policies and how they will recover from a flood or hurricane event. They can also help by supporting elected officials that implement policies to achieve best floodplain management practices, such as maintaining or acquiring additional open space in flood hazard areas, directing development away from high hazard areas, and encouraging higher, more resilient building and stormwater standards.
- Selling mitigation can be tough. How have you made progress on the education and awareness component of the CRS program with your residents? Lisa: Everyone has their own perception of what the risk is and how much risk they are willing to take. We focus on providing the best available data to our residents and businesses, so that they have information to make an informed and conscious decision about how and the extent to which they mitigate their risk. Pinellas County has a lot of floodplain, an increasing flood risk and citizens with a diverse income base. Although flood insurance may help residents recover from a flood, that financial assistance is not available until after a flood occurs and is generally not enough to cover the cost of ‘going up’, even with Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage. This cost discourages people from mitigating their homes, leaving them in a FLOOD-REPAIR-REPEAT cycle. Having mitigation grants more readily available to those who need it (especially following an event), may help encourage mitigation rather than repair. Improving the grant system to better align the insurance and mitigation areas, especially with the timing of funding availability, would also encourage mitigation.
Lisa Foster is a Certified Floodplain Manager with a Master of Science in Water Resources Engineering Science from the University of South Florida Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Center for Modeling Hydrologic and Aquatic Systems (CMHAS). She has 15 years of experience in watershed and floodplain management planning and education and currently serves as the Floodplain Administrator for Pinellas County. Foster manages Pinellas County’s Comprehensive Floodplain Management Program and NFIP Community Rating System (CRS) participation. She is also the Vice Chair of the Florida Floodplain Managers Association (FFMA), past President of the Florida Local Environmental Resource Agencies (FLERA), and sits on the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) Climate Change Task Force. She was awarded the national Award for Excellence in CRS by the FEMA Federal Insurance & Mitigation Administration (FIMA) in 2018 for her extensive work with the real estate industry and partnerships with communities across Florida.
LMA Newsletter of 9-20-21