Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on January 21, 2020
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 6, 2020
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 11, 2020
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:
- A consistent definition of flood risk and an accepted framework for how risk should be estimated;
- A proactive and strategic planning framework that emphasizes flood risk prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery;
- Effective and sustainable management of risks posed by floods to reduce the risk of flood loss, minimize the impact of floods on human health, safety, and welfare, and to restore and preserve the natural and beneficial values served by floodplains;
- Collaborative risk sharing and risk management at all levels of government, the insurance industry, and other by all stakeholders;
- Use of community and infrastructure risk resiliency tools such as the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure Envision rating system; and
- Risk informed communication, education/outreach, policies and funding priorities.
Flood risk is the measure of vulnerability to flood with consideration to the probability of occurrence and the total value of the assets at risk. Flood risk is the product of the vulnerability to flooding multiplied by the 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 due to the effects of observed extreme 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.
Ignoring the challenges is not an option. It is clear that when such action is justified and feasible our efforts must 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. Awareness on the part of the public has also increased, especially in light of the continuing occurrence of catastrophic flooding events. 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 minimal, 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.
Greater frequency of extreme flood events and population growth will further stress this already difficult situation. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, over $13.8 billion in losses were paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) between 2016 and 2018 due to flooding events, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
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. For engineers, risk assessment is a guide that directs proper land use and engineering planning, design, construction and operation, and maintenance 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