GAO pushes for better flood data

A General Accounting Office study found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood map modernization project needs sharply defined data standards and performance measures.

GAO auditors said that flood cartographers need consistent data collection and analysis methods for communities with similar risk levels. The study, released yesterday, also calls on DHS to ensure staff capabilities and to create a clear plan to partner with state and local entities with disparate resources and capabilities.

The report stated: "Although FEMA ranked the nation's 3,164 counties from highest to lowest risk, it has not yet established data standards that describe the appropriate level of detail, accuracy, and analysis required to develop digital maps based on risk level."

Flood maps pinpoint locations of greatest risk of flooding and are used by government to set building standards and insurance rates. FEMA's efforts to update flood maps are part of a strategy to use advanced technologies for greater accuracy and Internet accessibility.

The GAO study was intended to assess the progress of FEMA's five-year, $1 billion map modernization project. Seventy percent of FEMA's maps are more than 10 years old. Since 1968, the agency has published 100,000 map panels, or 25-square-mile snapshots of floodplains, for 19,000 communities.

DHS and FEMA officials agreed to comply with the study's recommendations.

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