GAO: FEMA must update digital flood maps

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must modernize its digital maps of flood zones to improve the performance of its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina drove home the need for improved flood maps, the report states.

Builders and developers need the most accurate and up-to-date maps possible so they can decide the best places to build, it states. The maps inform property owners about the flood risks they face when they rebuild hurricane-ravaged communities.

The problems NFIP encountered during the federal storm response prompted GAO to add the program to its list of high-risk projects this year, the report said.

GAO has tracked persistent problems with NFIP, including implementing its $1.5 billion Flood Map Modernization Program, for the past 15 years, the report said.

“Our work and the work of the DHS inspector general has shown, among other things, that FEMA faces a major challenge in working with its contractor and state and local partners of varying technical capabilities and resources to produce accurate digital flood maps,” David Walker, U.S. comptroller general, said in the report.

To overcome this obstacle, FEMA should create and enforce data standards that would require the agency and its partners to collect, analyze and use data consistently, the report states. That would make it easier to develop maps for communities facing similar flood risks, according to the report.

FEMA estimates that hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma will probably cost NFIP about $23 billion, far outpacing the $15 billion combined cost of all prior hurricanes from 1968 to August 2005, the report states.

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