Expecting the Unexpected

author: Roderick Scott

Hazard Mitigation: Expecting the Unexpected

From the National Trust’s Preservation Leadership Forum, May 12th, 2016 | a contribution to their series on climate change and cultural heritage by Roderick Scott, a certified floodplain manager with L & R Resources LLC. This is Part 2 of a series covering the Keeping History Above Water conference held April 10–13 in Newport, Rhode Island. [Part 1| Part 2| Part 3 | Part 4]

The first and most critical is the removal of the National Flood Insurance Policy (NFIP) rate subsidies for pre–flood map buildings, which takes effect in 2016. These buildings have enjoyed subsidized flood policy rates since the NFIP was started in the late 1960s, and the impending increases will impact different classes of buildings at different rates. Primary homes will experience the lowest insurance rate increase of 12 percent per year. Nonprofit organizations’ rates will increase 19 percent per year, and all income-producing/commercial buildings, as well as nonprimary residential buildings, will see increases of 25 percent per year.

Sea level rise is on quite a different timeline. Projections vary widely from 1.5 to 6 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100. Flood proofing or elevating our coastal historic buildings may allow us to enjoy them longer, but the bottom line is that we need to reduce flood risk and keep our historic buildings’ flood insurance affordable.

The city of Annapolis conducted a half-day planning exercise workshop about historic resources hazard mitigation plans. Making sure that historic resources are included in the community/regional hazard mitigation plan is essential so that those resources may be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pre- and post-disaster funding; it can also help secure other sources of funding where available. Most communities do not have a plan for hazard mitigation of their historic resources, but they should. A number of sessions at Keeping History Above Water addressed these issues.

  • The Site Specific Inundation Threat Assessment and Climate Change Adaptation session was led by several National Park Service staff from the Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey and New York. They have been assessing damages from Hurricane Sandy, looking ahead at climate change/sea level rise issues, and rebuilding priorities and implementation plans. Given how many structures there are in Gateway Park, evaluating risk and adaptation for these buildings is a complex process.
  • The Game of Floods—Historic Preservation Version was framed as a board game. Players were tasked with providing flood mitigation solutions to make a hypothetical historic community more resilient. The session illustrated the multiplicity of variables involved in mitigating flood hazards for a single community. While some were not initially convinced that their communities—or even preservation leaders themselves—were comfortable seeing physical changes to these historic buildings, the conference moved attendees toward acknowledging that this might be necessary to protect and preserve historic resources. Keeping History Above Water was an important step for moving historic preservation into the era of climate change, shepherding the adaptation of our irreplaceable historic resources.


    A team of conference participants beta-testing the Game of Floods: Preservation Edition, a public education activity on sea level resiliency developed by Alex Westhoff from the Marin County Community Development Agency in collaboration with the National Trust.| Credit: Frank Mullin


  • During Navigating the Unknown: Disaster Planning for Historic Properties, experts in both historic preservation and disaster planning shared vital information on how best to plan for the unexpected. This workshop focused on using a disaster checklist as well as assessing water-related vulnerabilities.Presenters underscored the need for a long-term strategy to navigate this complicated funding and preparedness landscape and ensure a positive outcome for historic properties. In addition the audience was provided with a basic understanding of flood insurance requirements and learned how recent changes to insurance premiums might impact historic properties.
  • The Innovation in Resilience Financing session went in depth regarding the broad funding need surrounding flood hazard mitigation. Urbanized coastal communities face immense resource-management challenges in the era of climate change. In particular protecting natural, historic, and economic resources from the impacts and risk associated with sea level rise and major storm events are priorities that loom large on a physical and political landscape that is constantly evolving. The session featured an important discussion about the possibility of using revenue bonding to make private property compliant with FEMA flood elevation requirements.
  • Finally, a session called Flood Hazard Mitigation Toolkit:Climate Change Adaptation of Historic Resources explored the unique challenges historic buildings face. Historic buildings constructed before flood maps had been drawn are now losing the discounts for flood insurance policies even as the future promises higher sea levels. Thus, flood hazard mitigation adaptation is important to reducing both the risk of flooding and the cost of flood insurance for a historic building. The first part of this session reviewed the planning side of flood mitigation, including plan development, review, and submission for permitting. Staff at historic buildings need to work with historic preservation commissions to ensure the design of appropriate, attractive, and long-lasting flood mitigation retrofitting of the buildings. The session also explored flood map elevation height requirements, civil engineering standards for designers, architectural designing, building codes, local flood ordinance requirements, open versus enclosed foundations, flood venting requirements for enclosures, and project scope of work and financing.

Roderick Scott is a certified floodplain manager with L & R Resources LLC.

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