The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in hot water with the FBI after an investigative report by NBC News uncovered hundreds of instances where FEMA workers assigned a lower flood risk to high-risk properties, allowing the owners to save "as much as 97 percent" on their flood insurance premiums.
According to NBC, the agency has been conducting interviews with FEMA employees for the past 10 days to get to the bottom of the fixed flood maps.
The NBC investigation published in February shows that 533 properties in Alaska, Hawaii, and across coastal areas of the continental United States were removed from high-risk flood zones under questionable circumstances, including these luxury beachfront condominiums in hurricane-prone Alabama.
On a single day -– Oct. 25, 2012, as agency officials were closely monitoring Hurricane Sandy as it barreled toward the Atlantic Coast — FEMA remapped more than a mile of the oceanfront in Gulf Shores [Alabama], including condos on the spot where a Holiday Inn and a McDonald's were destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The document that made that change, issued by a FEMA manager, redrew the lines to exclude 25 condo buildings from the highest-risk flood zone, and was one of just 533 cases found nationwide by NBC News.
NBC illustrated all 533 cases of questionable changes to flood risk on a map hosted by GIS software company Esri.
FEMA's flood maps are crucial for property owners and insurance companies alike, as they assess the risk for flooding at a particular location in the United States based on information such as proximity to a body of water, elevation, and climatological risk for hazards like hurricanes or major river flooding. Flood insurance premiums are heavily dependent on a property's FEMA-analyzed flood risk, with the highest-risk properties costing the most to insure per year.
FloodSmart.gov serves as "the official site of the National Flood Insurance Program," providing homeowners with information regarding both flood risk and flood insurance.
[Images via AP and NBC]