FEMA Floats Flood-Resilient Construction Rules


As central Louisiana continues to recover from last week's devastating floods, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has proposed new regulations aimed at rebuilding flood-prone communities “higher and stronger.”

Companies and homeowners who use federal funding on construction projects in flood-prone areas would be required to build on higher ground, two feet in some cases, under the newly proposed rules. Hospitals and nursing home facilities would be erected even higher.

The new regulations not only raise the levels for buildings, but affect roads, bridges and other projects receiving federal funds as well, according to FEMA.

“This is ensuring that when federal investments are made we will rebuild higher and stronger,” Roy Wright, deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation with FEMA, told The Wall Street Journal from Baton Rouge.

Flooding: Common and Costly

Recent ravaging flood waters in and around Baton Rouge have impacted 20 parishes and are responsible for killing 13 people, damaging or ruining over 60,000 homes, and displacing thousands, reports say.

FEMA announced Tuesday (Aug. 23) that more than $127 million had been approved for survivors of the flooding.

“Flooding is the most common and costly type of natural disaster in the United States, and floods are expected to be more frequent and more severe over the next century due in part to the projected effects of climate change,” FEMA said in its proposal, published in the Federal Register Monday (Aug. 22).

“This proposed rule would ensure that FEMA Federally Funded Projects are designed to be resilient to both current and future flood risks.”

New Rules

Under the new rules, federally funded projects must be built two feet above the 1-percent-chance annual flood level, or the “100-year-flood level,” according to the agency.

Hospitals and nursing homes would be required to be constructed three feet above the 100-year floodplain level, built to the 500-year floodplain, or built in accordance with the best available scientific models that may include other factors such as sea-level rise data.

Louisiana National Guard response to Louisiana flooding 2016
Louisiana National Guard

FEMA's proposed rule would help protect federal investments from future floods, minimize harm in floodplains, and protect evacuation and escape routes, the agency noted.

The new standards apply to roads and other projects as well.

Resilient Roads, Bridges

In its proposal, FEMA indicated that it considers all grants in its Roads and Bridges category to be critical.

The agency did not estimate the costs of improving flood resiliency of roads, it said, “because of the highly project-specific nature of road projects and numerous options for making roads resilient.”

In flood situations, roads can be damaged by erosion and scour, the flood waters, and debris blockage. The damage can be augmented by misaligned culverts; insufficient culvert capacity, including a reduction of capacity by obstructions; embankment erosion; and road and shoulder damage, FEMA noted.

Improving a road’s resiliency to flooding could include the installation of low water crossings, increasing culvert size, installing a relief culvert, providing slope protection to embankments, installing structures that dissipate the energy of flood water, realigning culverts, and installing subsurface drawings, it suggested.

Bridges can be flood-proofed as well, FEMA said, but noted that the specific techniques used depend on each individual structure, location and other circumstances.


FEMA announced Tuesday (Aug. 23) that more than $127 million had been approved for survivors of the flooding.

Not only would the proposed rule save time and money by reducing the recovery period of a flood event, but “higher elevations help to protect people, leading to increased safety,” it wrote.

Improving bridge resiliency, it added, helps to protect evacuation and escape routes, limit the chance of blockages occurring beneath bridges that could cause increased flooding upstream, and avoiding the cost of replacing the bridge if damaged in a later flood.

Rewriting the Standard

“The regulations would essentially rewrite the current 100-year flood standard that has been used nationwide for the past five decades since the national flood insurance program was adopted in the late 1960s,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

In order to qualify under that program, communities have required that buildings be at or above the elevation where a flood is calculated to rise on average once every 100 years, the report said.

Builders and business groups have voiced concern about the proposal, noting increased costs associated with building higher as well as worries that other governmental agencies and bodies might issue conflicting regulations, according reports.

A comment period on FEMA’s proposed regulations will remain open until Oct. 21.

The regulation stems from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in January 2015. 


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Disasters; Government; Health and safety; Health Care/Hospitals; North America; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Roads/Highways

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