From the kind folks who brought you the Katrina debacle (OK, OK, I know! Mother Nature gave us the hurricane that wiped out New Orleans. But it was the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, that largely gave us the debacle part!) now comes a new act that has millions of home owners up in arms -- if not yet water.
Many homeowners are getting notices they must purchase flood insurance for the first time, even though they may live in areas never known to flood....as in, never!
These premiums can cost anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars a year. And, in a sweet-heart deal if ever there was one for insurance companies, flood insurance is a requirement for anyone whose mortgage is backed by the federal government. And, yes, more than 50 percent of all mortgages in this country are now guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (who, by the way, ought to be married by now, don't you think?)
FEMA is relying on new maps drawn up to highlight areas that could --- let me repeat that word again, COULD --- get flooded in what is called a once-in-a-100-year storm! ("Just because you haven't experienced a flood in the past, doesn't mean you won't in the future" FEMA helpfuly explains on its floodsmart.gov website.)
According to FEMA, a high-risk area has at least a 1 percent annual chance of flooding, which equates to a 26 percent chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage. Because "changing weather patterns, erosion, and development" can affect floodplain boundaries, the agency explains, it has spent the past several years updating its county-by-county flood risk maps.
Still, that's hard for many homeowners to swallow, especially if your typical weather concern is drought, not deluge. Here in mostly dry Southern California, one irate local politico told the Los Angeles Times, "I'm a little bit suspect of FEMA in light of their track record."
Some cities and municipalities across the country are fighting back and, in some cases, FEMA is backing down and delaying or redrawing its maps.
Famous last words on this go to Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, once chief of the LAPD: "We don't understand how all of this area becomes a flood zone," says he. Yeah, good question, Bernie!
To see if your area is deemed a flood risk, consult FEMA's maps. That is, if you can make heads or tails of them.
Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." Oh, and he doesn't have flood insurance!