By Debbie Adams
The second annual Virginia Flood Insurance Symposium was held in Vinton this year on December 9 at the Vinton War Memorial complex.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) collaborated to put on the event, assisted by many other government agencies—local, state, and federal, including the Town of Vinton.
The daylong symposium, geared towards professionals, took place at the Vinton War Memorial.
The Open House was held at the Charles R. Hill Community Center that evening and allowed residents to ask individuals questions on how flood risks pertain to them.
The main message from officials at the Open House was for residents to identify their flood risk (low, medium, or high), insure their property, and take steps to reduce their risk. They also emphasized that “the cost of flood insurance is a drop in the bucket compared to the costs of flood damage.”
Floods are the most common natural disaster. Each year, about 200 Americans die because of floods, and flood damage throughout the nation exceeds $3 billion.
In 1987, after several disastrous floods and coastal storms, Virginia’s floodplain management programs were transferred from the Water Control Board to DCR. DCR manages coordination of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and works with localities to establish and enforce floodplain zoning.
The Town of Vinton is a participating community in the NFIP. In order to continue participating in the program, the Town must maintain and keep updated an ordinance that meets the requirements mandated by FEMA.
If it does not meet those requirements, the town would no longer be able to participate in the NFIP, and property owners in Vinton would no longer be able to purchase federally backed flood insurance policies.
NFIP-participating communities can reduce policyholders’ premiums by participating in the Community Rating System (CRS) program. The CRS is a voluntary, incentive-based community program that recognizes, encourages, and rewards local floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum standards of the NFIP.
In exchange for a community’s proactive efforts to reduce flood risk, policyholders can receive reduced flood insurance premiums for buildings in the community.
The Town of Vinton is designated as a CRS Class 8 community, which allows for eligible residences and businesses with flood insurance the opportunity to be discounted 10 percent off their flood insurance premiums.
Communities in CRS receive a rating based on the number of points they receive for eligible activities. Points are awarded to communities for various activities that improve the effectiveness of their floodplain management programs and reduce the risk of flood damage.
Points may be awarded for activities such as citizen-education programs, preserving open space in the floodplain, requiring higher construction standards and enforcing stormwater regulations. Lower ratings have higher NFIP policy discounts. These discounts apply to NFIP policies in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and some policies located outside of a SFHA.
Vinton is one of only 26 (of 323) Virginia communities who applied for and were accepted into the CRS program.
The town joined the CRS system in 2016 mainly based on documentation of its public outreach efforts, on its own and in collaboration with Roanoke County which also has a CRS 8 rating. Neighboring Roanoke City has a CRS 7 rating qualifying residents for a 15 percent reduction in flood insurance rates.
Vinton’s Principal Planner Nathan McClung says Vinton has a goal of achieving the CRS 7 rating in the future. McClung and Butch Workman, the Floodplain Administrator and CRS Coordinator for Roanoke County participated in the Open House session.
The Vinton community is fortunate that its Planning and Zoning Department works hard every year to be re-certified to secure this incentive and benefit to local businesses and residents. Becoming a member of the CRS program involves a significant investment of staff time.
Flood risk, insurance, and mitigation are complicated topics with a seeming overabundance of resources available. A good place to start researching the topic is the Town of Vinton website at www.vintonva.gov under the Planning and Zoning Department where the information is extremely comprehensive but is pared down to the basics in comprehensible language.
The Open House event provided residents with information about flood risk and insurance coverage in Virginia, as well as programs and resources available related to flood risk and mitigation. Many officials from a variety of agencies came equipped with a plethora of pamphlets, computer programs, and booklets to answer questions.
Attendees were asked to identify what insurance they currently have. With the help of DCR, they navigated the DCR website at https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/ to access the Virginia Flood Risk Information System (VFRIS), find their residence on a map and discern their flood risk. The website map is a public online platform available to all and just requires some maneuvering to become familiar with the resource.
It is important to know that homeowners’ insurance generally does not cover losses due to flood damage. The only way to be reimbursed for flood damage is to purchase flood insurance. Because the Town of Vinton is a participant of the National Flood Insurance Program, flood insurance is available to everyone in the town.
At the Open House, FEMA offered information on low cost projects homeowners can complete themselves to protect homes from flooding, both inside and outside the home. Exterior steps include maintaining proper water runoff and drainage, improving lot grading, reducing impervious surfaces around the home, installing a rain barrel, elevating utilities and services, cleaning gutters and downspouts, and anchoring outdoor fuel tanks.
Inside the home, residents can protect valuables by placing them well above potential flood elevation or inside watertight containers, install flood vents, install a sump pump, prevent sewer backups, use flood resistant building materials, raise electrical system components, protect utilities and service equipment, anchor indoor fuel tanks, and install a flood alert system.
Again, your best resource on flood information locally is the Vinton Planning and Zoning Department. Contact them at www.vintonva.gov or call 540-983-0605.