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Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force 

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force – Shaun Donovan, Chair

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Thursday, April 4, 2013                                            Brendan C. Gilfillan

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce


Federal Government Sets Uniform Flood Risk Reduction Standard for Sandy Rebuilding Projects

Updated Standard Harmonizes Federal Policy With Many State, Local Standards

WASHINGTON – Today, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced that all Sandy-related rebuilding projects funded by the supplemental spending bill must meet a single uniform flood risk reduction standard. The standard, which is informed by the best science and best practices including assessments taken following Hurricane Sandy and brings the federal standard into alignment with many state and local standards already in place, takes into account the increased risk the region is facing from extreme weather events, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change and applies to the rebuilding of structures that were substantially damaged and will be repaired or rebuilt with federal funding. As a result, the new standard will require residential, commercial, or infrastructure projects that are applying for federal dollars to account for increased flood risk resulting from a variety of factors by elevating or otherwise flood-proofing to one foot above the elevation recommended by the most recent available federal flood guidance.

This is the same standard that many communities in the region, including the entire state of New Jersey, have already adopted – meaning federally funded rebuilding projects in the impacted region often already must comply with this standard.  In fact, some communities require rebuilding higher than this minimum standard and if they do so, that stricter standard would supersede this standard as the minimum requirement.

“Communities across the region are taking steps to address the risks posed by climate change and the Federal Government needs to be a partner in that effort by setting a single clear standard for how federal funds will be used in rebuilding,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also chairs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. “Providing this guaranteed minimum level of protection will help us safeguard our investment and, more importantly, will help communities ensure they are better able to withstand future storms.”

“President Obama has called on us to invest in our nation’s infrastructure—and that includes ensuring that our transit systems, roads, rails and bridges are built to last,” said Transportation Secretary LaHood, who joined Secretary Donovan in making the announcement in New Jersey today. “The flood risk reduction standard is a common sense guideline that will save money over the long-term and ensure that our transportation systems are more resilient for the future.”

Today’s announcement does not retroactively affect federal aid that has previously been given to property owners and communities in the Sandy-impacted areas.  It also does not impact insurance rates under the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Moving forward the federal standard applies to substantial rebuilding projects (i.e. when damage exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure) that will rely on federal funding.

The specific steps that these types of structures will need to take include:

  • Elevating – the standard would require structures to elevate their bottom floor one foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA; and/or

  • Flood-proofing – in situations where elevation is not possible, the standard will require structures to prepare for flooding a foot higher than the most recent flood risk guidance provided by FEMA – for example, by relocating or sealing boilers or other utilities located below the standard elevation

These additional steps are intended to protect communities from future risk and to protect taxpayer investments over the long term. 

The programs which received funding in the supplemental bill and will be impacted by this standard include:

  • HUD: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program

  • HHS: Construction and reconstruction projects funded by Social Services Block Grants and Head Start

  • FEMA: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Public Assistance Program

  • EPA: The State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs

  • DOT: Federal Transit Administration's Emergency Relief Program, as well as some Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration projects


Frequently Asked Questions:

What does this mean for home and small business owners?

While it’s true that this is already adopted in most communities, a standard at the federal level ensures that home and small business owners have a consistent minimum flood risk standard, regardless of what public funding they use for major repairs or reconstruction.

Does this apply to every property in the Sandy-affected region?

This standard only affects federal funding and mortgage insurance for properties that suffered substantial damage or are being newly constructed or reconstructed. So, it will ensure that where the federal government is committing substantial taxpayer dollars to a property, we are taking efforts to ensure that the taxpayer investment is prepared to withstand the next storm. Property owners who already used private funds, FEMA Individual Assistance, or Small Business Administration loans to make repairs to their homes and businesses are unaffected. Properties that were not substantially damaged are unaffected.

Property owners who use insurance proceeds, their own savings, or other non-federal funds are not affected by this standard; instead they are subject only to local zoning/code requirements.

Why was the standard set at most recent FEMA guidance +1? 

The new standard is a consistent minimum standard that Sandy-related rebuilding projects supported by federal funding will be required to meet.  This standard is based on the most recent available flood risk guidance FEMA has provided, whether that is a new ABFE or existing FIRM.  However, recognizing that by statutory requirement FEMA's Flood Insurance Rate Maps and other mapping products only depict today's flood risk, and that risk continuously changes and is expected to increase in many areas, the standard also builds in an extra buffer of 1 foot above base flood elevations to ensure long term resilience of communities.  State and local governments are encouraged to review their local conditions and needs and, where appropriate, build to an even higher standard where they are planning critical infrastructure projects and/or where future conditions indicate higher risk.  Where state and local standards exceed this standard, Federal agencies will be guided by the higher standard. 

What Federal agencies and programs are involved in this?

Only those that have funding for construction agencies in the Sandy supplemental (Public Law 113-2) are involved. This includes:

  • Department of Transportation (FHWA Emergency Relief Program; FTA Public Transportation Emergency Relief Program)

  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (CDBG-DR)

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Construction; Operations & Maintenance)

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (Disaster Relief Fund)

  • Environmental Protection Agency (State and Tribal Assistance Programs)

  • Department of Health and Human Services (Social Services Block Grants)

How are people going to pay for this?

In many cases this is in line with what local communities are already requiring. In addition, many of the federal funds that this standard applies to are available for mitigation efforts like building elevation.

What about large buildings that are too tall to elevate?

This standard does not require that everything be elevated out of the floodplain. Some things, like water treatment plants, have to be built in the floodplain. The standard will require that those buildings prepare or harden the portions below the base flood elevation + 1 foot.

How are flood risk and climate change related?

In New York, the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy has shown how powerful and damaging the effects of coastal flooding can be for infrastructure and communities. Sea level rise, which is attributable to climate change, increases the risk of such flooding for millions of people across the U.S. Twenty-three of the 25 most densely populated U.S. counties are on the coast. We’ve had roughly a foot of sea level rise in the New York City area in the past century.

While it’s hard to link a particular weather event to climate change, we know that climate change results in more intense storms and rising sea levels. Climate change causes sea levels to rise because of melting ice sheets and because water expands as it warms. As sea levels continue to rise, a storm of the same magnitude will result in even more damaging flooding because storm surges would come in on top of a higher “baseline” water level.