• ABIR Comments on FEMA's Proposed Implementation of the FFRMS

    Statements / Letters | 10.21.2016

    October 21, 2016
    Submitted via

    Adrian Sevier
    Regulatory Affairs Division
    Office of Chief Counsel
    Federal Emergency Management Agency
    8NE-1604, 500 C Street SW
    Washington, DC 20472-3100

    RE: Public Comment on FEMA’s Proposed Implementation of the FFRMS; Docket ID: FEMA–2015–0006

    Dear Mr. Sevier:

    The Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR) offers these comments in support of the FEMA rulemaking on the Updates to Floodplain Management and Protection of Wetlands Regulations to Implement Executive Order 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

    ABIR represents 23 commercial property and casualty insurers and reinsurers with underwriting operations in Bermuda. Fourteen ABIR members also have subsidiary insurance companies in the United States. ABIR members are global insurers and reinsurers conducting underwriting operations in Bermuda and with subsidiary corporations, branches or other affiliates in major markets such as the United States, the European Union, Asia and Latin America. ABIR members and other Bermuda (re)insurers play an important role in the US economy – they paid nearly 30% of the insured losses from 2005 Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Additionally, ABIR members and other Bermuda (re)insurers provide 66% of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund retrocessional program and are the largest providers of Florida catastrophe reinsurance. ABIR members are estimated to provide more than 40% of the catastrophe reinsurance that protect US insurers from hurricanes and earthquakes.

    These comprehensive regulatory revisions have been subject to a thorough consultation process. Taken as a whole they provide US taxpayers with important new protections ensuring that facilities built with FEMA’s federal taxpayer dollars will be better prepared to withstand the growing flood risk and design in resilience to the important facilities. These redesigned standards are an excellent example of improved financial stewardship. These regulations will also ensure that projects including critical facilities are built to better withstand the dangers of flooding and will be more likely to function during their expected useful lifetime. We point to these specific changes as being indicative of a wise approach to flood risk mitigation and adaptation that we hope can be carried forward into other rulemaking action. We’re encouraged that the regulations call for regular review and updating of the standards.

    1. Floodplain boundary. The expansion in subject areas of the defined floodplain standard to a 1/500-year standard is important in reflecting the reality that recent events, including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, flooded areas well beyond the 1/100-year floodplain boundary. The expansion is appropriate and reflects the fact that damages to facilities and critical projects can occur over widespread areas well outside of plotted 1/100 year flood plains. With sea level rise now a reality and with projections for up to a four-foot sea level rise by 2100, it is essential that federal dollars be wisely spent on facilities specifically designed and located to be less subject to flooding. We also support the nomenclature change converting the 1/100 year standard to a 1% annual flood risk and converting the 1/500 year measure to a .2% annual flood risk. It should lead to better consumer understanding of the annual risk of a loss.
    2. Natural systems. We applaud the reference to use of natural systems, grasslands, wetlands, berms and dunes as illustrative of cost effective features to protect against flooding. Mitigation against flooding will of necessity include both natural and man-made defenses. Often the most cost effective are the natural defenses. We would suggest that greater emphasis be put on the natural systems reference in the standard.
    3. Higher vertical elevation. The standard defines a higher vertical elevation and a corresponding horizontal floodplain standard. This with the two to three-foot freeboard above the defined elevation will provide important taxpayer protection and assure functionality of facilities in the event of flooding in the surrounding area. The inclusion of the freeboard measure is a practical approach to protect facilities from the inherent uncertainty in defining the floodplain and in preparing for additional sea level rise. The additional freeboard protection is important given the constant change to flooding patterns caused by nearly constant development and the change of geographic features affecting water flow in local areas.
    4. Climate Informed Science Approach (CISA). The regulations correctly allow for a CISA to be used to assess flood risk, when data is available to allow for that, at a specific location. Over time we would expect that this becomes a more important tailor-made flood assessment of the facility being designed, taking into account increasing knowledge of climate risk and local geographic variations. In essence this builds in a self-correcting feature into flood risk assessment going forward. Any incentives to encourage this CISA type of site specific scientific analysis would further improve flood safety and resilience.

    Bradley L. Kading
    President and Executive Director