Flood risk and mitigation

Tennessee: Flood risk and mitigation


Floods are becoming more intense in Tennessee, and flooding is the state’s second most common natural hazard, occurring on average every 10.2 days.1 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, 26 federal disasters and emergencies were declared for floods and severe storms in Tennessee, which exceeded $792 million in total assistance from the U.S. government.2

Tennessee flood risk and mitigation

Federal flood insurance helps communities prepare

Twenty communities in Tennessee 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 and relocation of flood-prone structures, elevation of structures, and flood proofing—that exceed the program’s minimum requirements.3 The highest-rated communities in the state are the cities of Athens, Bristol, Gatlinburg, and Knoxville; the combined jurisdiction of the city of Nashville and Davidson County; and Williamson County, all of which earned 10 percent discounts for eligible properties.4

Tennessee flood risk and mitigation

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, which can absorb storm impacts and help shield property.
  • Reforming the National Flood Insurance Program to better communicate actual risk, break the cycle of repeated loss and rebuilding in the most flood-prone areas, and provide incentives to compel communities and homeowners to prepare in advance of floods.


  1. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, “State of Tennessee Energy Sector Risk Profile” (2015), http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/09/f33/TN_Energy Sector%20Risk%20Profile_2.pdf.
  2. Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Disaster Declarations,” accessed May 26, 2016, https://www.fema.gov/disasters. Sum of individual assistance and public assistance for Tennessee flood-related major disaster and emergency declarations from 2000 to 2015.
  3. National Flood Insurance Program, “Community Rating System (CRS),” https://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/crs/community_rating_system.jsp.
  4. Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Community Rating System” (2016), https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1476294162726-4795edc7fe5cde0c997bc4389d1265bd/CRS_List_of_Communites_10_01_2016.pdf.

The Financial Toll of Flooding—Part 1

Episode 8

Quick View

It’s hurricane season—and extreme weather events are on the rise. Along with the catastrophic losses that families face after the flood is the economic burden on taxpayers through the National Flood Insurance Program. It’s the financial lifeline for those who carry flood insurance and an essential funding source for both disaster preparation and recovery efforts. However, the program is also $25 billion in debt, and more than a quarter of that total is from properties that flood repeatedly. It’s a growing issue affecting more than just coastal cities.