Point of Beginning

FEMA's Project Impact

June 1, 2000
Project Impact, a national initiative started by the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) in 1997 to help build disaster resistant communities, counts on surveyors as its “front line” according to FEMA director James Lee Witt. Witt was the keynote speaker at ACSM 2000 in Little Rock, Ark., in March. FEMA oversees the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Mitigation begins with the accurate survey of a flood plain,” Witt said. “Surveyors are indispensable partners in Project Impact because of their role in flood plain mapping.”

Project Impact helps communities protect themselves from the effects of natural. Seventy-five percent of all disasters in the United States are flood related. Flood mitigation efforts include modernizing base elevation data and flood maps, and buying out and relocating homeowners who live in the 100-year flood plain.

According to Witt, accurate mapping of the flood plain is fundamental to mitigation. Many flood plain maps are outdated.

Witt said that FEMA is currently 10 years behind in map modernization. He estimates that about $750 million will be needed to update the maps. This year, Congress approved $134.4 million for map modernization. Half of that budget will be contracted out to local surveyors as FEMA moves to privatize services and distribute more local control to the map modernization program.

Over the next 10 years, Witt said, FEMA wants its flood maps to be digitized and available to the public on the Internet. Currently, only 15 percent of FEMA maps have been digitized. “The maps need to be accurate before they can be digitized,” he said. “And before accurate surveys can be done, we need accurate base elevations.” Witt said he believes that elevation data on USGS topo maps is not accurate enough. FEMA is undertaking a pilot program in which LIDAR mapping and satellite imagery are being used to update base elevations in Louisiana.

Witt said he would also like to change the current system of issuing Letters of Map Amendment (LOMA). Currently, property owners need to get their LOMAs from FEMA, a sometimes expensive and arduous process. He wants to give the responsibility of issuing LOMAs over to local surveyors who can do the work more quickly and economically. Although he said he would like to see this change made “sooner rather than later,” he would not commit to a firm time period in which such a change is likely to occur.