US: National flood insurance is underwater because of outdated science

Source(s): Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc.

By Jen Schwartz

The FEMA program will continue to be financially unviable until it uses the latest research to help fix its broken system

The National Flood Insurance Program, which covers some 5.2 million property holders in the U.S., was slated to get a badly needed overhaul today. The Senate’s task—which includes hammering out reforms that address the changing math of flood risk—has already been pushed back three times since November. Yet lawmakers still have not compromised on how to fix a broken system, so a reauthorization of the NFIP will almost certainly be punted again, to July 31.


In its current form, the NFIP is “ill-suited to deal with the challenges we face today and the flood risks we face five, 10, 50 years from now,” says Robert Moore, a senior policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council. Pretty much everyone agrees this is true, regardless of party politics. In fact, SmarterSafer, a collation made up of insurance companies, progressive environmental organizations and right-leaning think tanks, is one group advocating for sweeping change (pdf).

Among the major reasons why the NFIP cannot keep up with the growing number of claims is that it assesses risk based on outdated science. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy it became widely known FEMA was demarcating flood zones using data from the 1980s, which failed to predict the inundations brought by the 2012 storm. Meanwhile development continues to bloom in increasingly vulnerable floodplains, creating more properties that the NFIP pays to repair—sometimes over and over again.


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