FEMA hopes for flood of ideas

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using a novel approach to help

it improve its flood insurance program: getting companies together to talk

and staying out of the way.

FEMA is hosting a forum today with many company representatives to explore

how technology can be used to simplify gathering and distributing information

that determines rates in FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

Congress created the NFIP in 1968 to protect communities against the cost

of flooding and spur them to build more flood-resistant structures.

At least initially, FEMA isn't releasing a request for proposals. Instead,

FEMA hopes the companies discover that the agency's requirement for easily

acquired and accessible elevation data can be profitable — and therefore

decide to do the work on their own, said Edward Pasterick, division chief

of the financial division at FEMA's Federal Insurance Administration

"Rather than buying the solution directly, maybe [FEMA can] foster the development

of the solution through the private sector," Pasterick said. "It's easiest

if you don't have to be directly involved."

FEMA is trying this approach partly because the private sector is deeply

involved in the NFIP. Generally, insurance companies do not offer flood

coverage because the risk is too high for them, Pasterick said. Under the

NFIP, the federal government takes on the risk, but FEMA still relies on

insurance agents at participating private companies to write policies.

To write a flood policy, an insurance agent must know the elevation of a

structure's lowest floor, and determining that is tedious, Pasterick said.

Currently, a homeowner must hire a surveyor and obtain an elevation certificate,

which can be expensive and time-consuming.

FEMA hopes forum participants can provide ideas on how to obtain such information

more easily — using mapping, radar and light detection and ranging technology,

for example — and how to make it accessible to insurance agents through

computers.

"The problem is that the information needed is not at [agents'] fingertips,"

Pasterick said. "The ideal would be to have an agent be able to enter into

a computer a property address and have all the information he or she needs

to come up with a rate right there."

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