FEMA's Flood Maps Are Way Out of Date

ProPublica: Digital maps often based on data collected decades ago

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 18, 2013 7:34 PM CDT

(Newser) – FEMA is constantly putting out new flood maps for different parts of the country, which seems like a good thing. Except for this: A ProPublica investigation finds that the maps are often based on outdated information, resulting in huge headaches for homeowners whose insurance premiums are based on them. Countless cases reveal two big themes:

  • The maps put homeowners in flood zones that aren't actually flood zones. One homeowner in Texas discovered she was in a "special flood hazard area" even though she lives atop a hill. After a long fight, she got FEMA to admit the mistake.
  • Maybe worse, some homeowners who do live in flood zones don't know it. North Dakota, for example, is about to get "updated" maps, but those maps won't reflect data from the biggest floods in state history—in 1997, 2009, and 2011.

The problem is that while FEMA is putting out digitized maps these days, they are often based on data from paper maps that go back decades. Surely, modern technology can fix this? Yep, a system called lidar in which planes fire laser pulses at the ground can provide accuracy 10 times greater than the old methods. "Yet as we’ve reported, Congress, with the support of the White House, has actually cut map funding by more than half since 2010, from $221 million down to $100 million this year," writes ProPublica's Theodoric Meyer. Click for the full story.

Flooding from the Red River south of Fargo, N.D., in 2009. FEMA's soon-to-be-released flood maps for North Dakota don't include data from this flood or other huge floods in 1997 and 2011.
Flooding from the Red River south of Fargo, N.D., in 2009. FEMA's soon-to-be-released flood maps for North Dakota don't include data from this flood or other huge floods in 1997 and 2011.   (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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