The management of floodplains is vital to achieve changes in our decisions at the individual and societal level. (Shutterstock)
Integrated flood risk management could serve to improve our well-being and the country's economy. This, through the development of projects that meet multiple objectives, but that in turn consider the vulnerabilities of the population and exposure to natural phenomena.
The management of floodplains is vital to achieve changes in our decisions at the individual and societal level. Likewise, it is essential to change the direction of the conversation about how to manage our risk of floods, rather than trying to control them.
Achieving this paradigm shift is complex for a number of reasons. It requires that we plan for events that have not yet occurred. It also implies that we replace the localized approach in a section of a body of water with a systematic one considering its entire river basin. Furthermore, the incorporation of various social, economic and ecological disciplines must be specified.
It is urgent to bet on our ability to identify, analyze and mitigate the risks of river, coastal and urban floods. Floods are natural phenomena; that is, expected and normal, not a risk in itself. These are identified and characterized by their magnitude or level of flooding and their probability of occurrence. The effect of these events will depend on the use of the land, the conditions of the home, the state of the infrastructure, the capacity to respond to emergencies and the level of income. This means that the same phenomenon will affect different people and sectors in different ways. So, when we talk about risk, we mean the sum of the dangers of these phenomena with the degree of vulnerability.
Hurricane Maria caused flood damage in locations outside areas identified as flood-prone in the 2009 Flood Insurance Rate Maps. In 2018, to address this need during the island's rebuilding process, the Planning Board and FEMA developed and adopted the Recommended Base Flood Level Maps. These maps identified new floodplains, as well as new flood levels that can affect construction practices. It is necessary to continue improving its precision and effectiveness. Flood maps are the tool most used by developers, designers, building permit technicians, federal, state and municipal officials, and property owners to make decisions regarding potential flood events. They are also used for the development of mitigation plans, land use planning plans, the use of federal funds, flood policy requirements, among others. At the individual level, these maps provide an idea of what exposure a residential or commercial property may have to a flood event.
However, the information in these maps only makes it easier for us to understand what we are exposed to, but does not consider vulnerabilities, and therefore, we do not know the risk and impact of a flood event.
There are several options to identify and analyze risk, and to be effective in designing mitigation strategies. At the institutional level, there are risk maps, which provide information on the economic impact after an event and the different levels of flooding, among other relevant information. Furthermore, FEMA's HAZUS-MH model is a geographic information system-based tool for natural hazard analysis that uses methodologies and models to estimate potential losses from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes.
It is important that people understand their exposure, susceptibility and ability to adapt to flood events. At the individual level, a property owner can hire a surveyor to develop an elevation certificate, which helps to comply with regulation 13, negotiate flood insurance policies, estimate the flood level and facilitate the design of strategies to prevent flood waters from entering. The Community Resilience Program under the Housing Action Plan could serve as support for people who do not have the resources to hire a professional. These grants should contribute to increasing the knowledge that a certain community has about risk management in their area.
In this way, informed decision-making is promoted and encouraged. These must take into account the impacts of flooding, periods of drought and other challenges such as low water quality, deterioration of infrastructure, lack of access to green areas and heat events.
The author is a Certified Risk Management Group certified floodplain engineer and manager .