Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on March 3, 2023
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on June 9, 2023
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2023
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) urges all federal, state, and local government agencies, in collaboration with the private sector, to adopt flood-risk management policies that provide for:
- Risk informed communication, analysis, engineering, education/outreach, polices, and funding.
- A consistent methodology for estimating flood risk and an accepted framework for communities to adopt flood risk reduction strategies.
- A proactive and strategic planning framework that emphasizes flood risk prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
- Sustainable management of flood risks to reduce loss of life, economic damage to housing and commercial buildings and infrastructure, and improve the natural environment.
- Restoration and preservation of the natural and beneficial values served by floodplains.
- Collaborative risk sharing, management, and communication at all levels of government, the insurance industry, and community stakeholders.
- Use of community and infrastructure risk resiliency tools such as the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure Envision rating system.
Flood risk is the measure of vulnerability considering both the probability of flood events and the potential consequences (damages) due to flooding. Consequences include loss of human life and property as well as disruption of public services. The frequency of flood occurrences continues to increase because of climatic changes resulting in an increase in extreme weather events. There is no common vision of how the nation should collaborate to reduce its flood risk. Proposals to deal with this challenge have languished in multiple Congressional committees. The Unified National Program for Floodplain Management, called for by Congress, was last revised in 1994 and has not yet been implemented. We do not have a sound analysis of the potential risk to the nation from flooding.
Faced with these challenges, action is justified and feasible and should be focused on identifying our risks and developing and implementing a portfolio of approaches to deal with these risks—a portfolio referred to collectively as flood risk management (FRM). Despite the continuing tension between development and FRM, limited steps have been taken and progress has been made in some communities to reduce and more effectively deal with flood risk. The increasing frequency and severity of flooding events has increased the public’s awareness of flood risk. Collaborative risk management requires continued operation and maintenance of our flood infrastructure. Currently our flood infrastructure remains in marginal condition and there is no realistic plan in place to deal with or improve these conditions. Federal funding is uncoordinated, and local communities lack the resources with which to address the problem.
Federal, state, and local governments share the responsibility of flood management choices, including development within flood prone areas. Unintended consequences of flood insurance, rebuilding funds, tax incentives and political pressures provide a mixed message to the citizens and local governments that are responsible for land-use regulation. Unless more is done to reduce risk, we are creating a potentially insurmountable challenge for future generations.
Among the great challenges the U.S. faces today is recognizing the magnitude of risk posed by flooding and motivating the public and decision-makers to make the investments required to reduce flood risk. This includes making emergency preparations, strengthening our flood protection systems, land use planning, and finding new ways to reduce our vulnerability to flooding.
A greater frequency of extreme flood events and population growth will further stress this already difficult situation. Recent updates to NOAA’s Atlas Precipitation Frequency Data indicate that many areas of the country have seen increases in the intensity and volume associated with extreme rain events. The increasing precipitation intensity is just one indicator that many of the country’s flood risk management systems are undersized for a changing climate.
Risk management is a powerful tool in the decision-making process where the conclusions of risk assessment and comparative risk analysis are weighed among other considerations such as statutory requirements, costs, public values and politics, expectations, and exposure to hazards. Risk management can also be used to forecast a range of future conditions for use in infrastructure planning and should be used as a guide that directs proper land use and engineering planning, design, construction and operation, and maintenance decision making and practices. While it is important to plan for possible failure (including provisions for insurance, emergency evacuation, flood proofing, etc.), it is equally important to adequately address risk in the planning, design, and maintenance of systems and how consequences are managed.
ASCE Policy Statement 545
First Approved in 2014