Floods and hurricanes are becoming more intense in Pennsylvania. As these events become more serious, the physical and economic damage to communities and the threats to human lives and ecosystems also increase. Between 2000 and 2015, 20 federal disasters and emergencies were declared for floods, hurricanes, and severe storms in Pennsylvania that exceeded $750 million in total assistance from the U.S. government.1 Further, flooding is the single greatest cause of property loss due to natural hazards in the state: From 1996 to 2014, floods were responsible for $91.6 million a year in losses.2
Federal flood insurance helps communities prepare
Thirty-one communities in Pennsylvania participate in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. The voluntary program provides reduced insurance premiums in communities that proactively implement flood plain management practices—such as acquisition, relocation, and elevation of structures; restoration and protection of natural spaces; and flood proofing—that exceed the program’s minimum requirements.3 The highest-rated communities in the state are the cities of Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, which each earned a 20 percent discount for eligible properties.4
Importance of policy
Communities must prepare for weather-related catastrophes such as floods and hurricanes, and U.S. policymakers should consider reforms that improve protection and preparation, minimize disruptions to the economy, and reduce costs to the federal government and taxpayers by:
- Increasing federal investment in proactive mitigation programs that help communities prepare for and reduce risk of floods.
- Improving resilience and durability requirements for infrastructure that is rebuilt after disasters.
- Protecting ecosystems, such as wetlands, salt marshes, and dunes, that can absorb storm impacts and help shield property.
- Reforming the National Flood Insurance Program to better reflect actual risk, ensure sufficient financial reserves, and compel communities and homeowners to be more proactive in preparing for floods.
- Sum of individual assistance and public assistance for Pennsylvania flood-related major disaster and emergency declarations from 2000 to 2015. Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Disaster Declarations,” accessed April 20, 2016, https://www.fema.gov/disasters.
- U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, “State of Pennsylvania Energy Sector Risk Profile” (2015), http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/05/f22/PA-Energy%20Sector%20Risk%20Profile.pdf.
- National Flood Insurance Program, “Community Rating System (CRS),” https://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/crs/ community_rating_system.jsp.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Community Rating System,” May 1, 2014, http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1398878892102-5cbcaa727a635327277d834491210fec/ CRS_Communites_May_1_2014.pdf.