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Explained: The FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) for Local Communities

Every year, floods devastate communities, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS) is designed to provide incentives for communities to take actions that will reduce future potential flood damage and encourage efficient floodplain management at a local level. In this article, we will discuss the FEMA CRS and highlight how local communities can benefit from this program, and the financial advantages that come from community preparedness and adherence to the CRS guidelines.

Curious about your communities flood rating? At the end of the article you will find a link to FEMA’s current rating chart (as of April 1, 2024)

What is the FEMA Community Rating System

The FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary program that recognizes and incentivizes community floodplain management practices exceeding FEMA’s minimum requirements. By engaging in comprehensive floodplain management activities, communities can earn a CRS classification ranging from Class 10 (no discount, equivalent to non-participation in the CRS program) to Class 1. A lower CRS Class signifies a higher level of commitment to flood risk reduction, reflecting significant investment in public infrastructure, outreach activities, and preserving the integrity of flood insurance rate maps.

Participation in the CRS program can result in considerable economic benefits. Property owners in communities that adopt more robust floodplain management practices benefit from reduced flood insurance premiums on insurable properties, lowering the economic disruption caused by floods. The discount on flood insurance varies, with potential reductions in premiums of 5% to 45% based on the community’s CRS classification.

As of now, over 1,500 communities nationwide participate in the CRS program, leveraging it to safeguard their citizens and economies from the burdens of flood damage while enabling flood insurance coverage to be more affordable through significant flood insurance premium discounts. Here is the breakdown of the possible discounts that would be available at the different CRS classifications:

CRS ClassificationFlood Insurance Premium Discounts
CRS Class 95% discount
CRS Class 810% discount
CRS Class 715% discount
CRS Class 620% discount
CRS Class 525% discount
CRS Class 430% discount
CRS Class 335% discount
CRS Class 240% discount
CRS Class 1Up to 45% discount
Fema CRS Classifications and associated discounts, as of April 1, 2024

How does the CRS program work?

To participate in the FEMA Community Rating System program, local communities must undergo a series of steps to demonstrate their commitment to floodplain management and risk reduction. These steps typically involve:

  1. Evaluation: Communities assess their current floodplain management practices and capabilities.
  2. Application: Communities submit an application to FEMA documenting their commitment to exceeding minimum floodplain management requirements.
  3. Verification: FEMA verifies the submitted information and conducts an on-site evaluation of the community’s floodplain management activities.
  4. Classification: Based on the evaluation and verification, FEMA assigns a CRS Class to the community, reflecting their level of commitment to flood risk reduction.
  5. Maintenance: Communities must continuously demonstrate their adherence to CRS guidelines to maintain their classification.

By participating in the CRS program, communities demonstrate a proactive approach to addressing flood risk and protecting their citizens. These efforts go beyond the minimum requirements, ensuring that communities are better prepared

Key Concepts

The FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) is a program that rewards communities that engage in exceptional floodplain management practices, providing flood insurance premium reductions to residents as a tangible incentive. Participating communities go beyond the basic requirements set by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by adopting activities aimed at reducing flood damage to insurable property, fostering the insurance aspects of the NFIP, and encouraging a comprehensive approach to floodplain management.

The CRS evaluates communities through a meticulous rating system, where various floodplain management activities are measured in areas like public information dissemination, the accuracy and enforcement of mapping and regulations, proactive flood damage reduction efforts, as well as emergency warnings and response strategies.

A CRS Coordinator, designated by the community’s leading executive, plays a pivotal role in overseeing these activities, ensuring effective coordination and maintaining communication with FEMA. The Coordinator’s involvement is central to making sure that the community’s floodplain management practices are up to par and that they align with the CRS’s goals for sustainability, resilience, and public safety.

Floods and Flood Insurance

Communities within the CRS program have the opportunity to secure discounts on NFIP flood insurance premiums, with adjustments correlating to the level of engagement in flood risk mitigation and comprehensive floodplain management activities. Through a tiered rating system, the CRS recognizes the varying levels of commitment among communities, offering discounts ranging from 5% to 45%.

Residents in the nation’s over 1,500 CRS-participating communities, particularly those in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), see the direct benefits of these initiatives through lowered premiums, which serve as a monetary reflection of the decreased flood risk achieved through deliberate and effective community planning.

Insurable Properties and Floodplains

The influence of the CRS program on insurable properties within participating communities is significant. Enhanced resilience is facilitated through activities such as consistent flood data maintenance, stormwater management implementation, and regular floodplain inspections. These initiatives contribute to a lowering of flood insurance premiums, aligning the cost with the community’s achievements in diminishing flood risks and damages.

For citizens and property owners, the program not only provides financial relief but also fosters heightened awareness of flood risks, encourages vulnerability assessments, and supports proactive measures to protect homes and businesses. With continuous technical support and a robust framework for evaluating and enhancing flood programs, the CRS also offers tools for maintaining and improving community floodplain management efforts over time.

Floodplain Management Activities

Floodplain management activities encompassed by the CRS enhance public safety, mitigate property and public infrastructure damage, and help avert economic disruptions. By implementing measures to reduce the impact of flood damage, communities can also solidify the insurance components of the NFIP and promote all-encompassing floodplain management approaches.

Incentives built into the CRS program encourage communities to maintain and progress their flood programs, with the ultimate goal of safeguarding citizens and infrastructure against the perils of flooding. As communities strive to up their CRS class rating, they can continually gauge the effectiveness of their efforts against nationally recognized standards.

Community Rating System (CRS)

A community’s CRS class rating mirrors its commitment to flood risk reduction, with Class 1 communities receiving the highest level of recognition and the most significant discounts on flood insurance premiums. Through a calculated point system based on specific activities and achievements, communities can ascertain their CRS rating and subsequent eligibility for insurance premium reductions.

These discounts exemplify the tangible benefits of the CRS program, with communities actively lowering their risk profiles. Furthermore, a high CRS rating not only brings financial advantages to residents but also signals a holistic and proactive stances towards floodplain management, enhancing the community’s overall disaster resilience.

Flood Insurance Premiums

Active participation in CRS enables communities to obtain notable discounts on flood insurance premiums, which are aligned with the depth of their floodplain and watershed management actions. The program’s success is exemplified by the growing number of communities—more than 1,500 across the United States—that benefit from reduced premiums.

The size of the discount on flood insurance premiums varies and is determined by each community’s rank within the ten CRS classes. These discounts serve not only as a reward for effective management but also as an incentive for other communities to join and for current members to continue their efforts in enhancing their floodplain management practices.

Understanding Flood Risk & CRS Discounts

Flooding stands as the most prevalent and destructive natural hazard in the United States, impacting an overwhelming 98% of counties. It’s a phenomenon that can bring significant economic burdens; even a mere inch of water has the potential to result in up to $25,000 in damages. Against this backdrop, the importance of comprehending individual and community flood risks becomes clear. Participation in the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) is not just about reaping financial benefits; it is a conduit for citizens to gain a deeper understanding of their susceptibility to flooding and take proactive measures to shield their properties and livelihoods.

Factors Contributing to Flood Risk

Flood risk is a multifaceted issue influenced by various factors ranging from geographical location to climatic conditions. Underpinning these influences is the FEMA CRS, designed to motivate communities to go beyond standard floodplain management by awarding flood insurance premium discounts for residents. These communities often reside in designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA), starting the CRS journey at Class 9 or Class 8, which correspond to 5% and 10% insurance premium discounts, respectively. As these communities embrace and execute more comprehensive floodplain management practices and achieve higher CRS Class ratings, they can unlock even greater incentives—up to a 45% reduction in NFIP flood insurance premiums.

Earning a higher CRS Class rating involves adopting measures that strengthen resilience against flooding. Each community accrues points based on the implementation of specific, approved activities, leading to tangible benefits for residents and property owners in the form of lower flood insurance rates. Beyond these economic incentives, the steps taken to achieve a higher CRS rating play a critical role in enhancing public safety and minimizing potential flood damage.

Flood Hazard Mapping

An essential aspect of flood risk management is accurate and comprehensive flood hazard mapping. Activity 410 within the CRS program acknowledges this need by providing guidance on the creation of regulatory maps for locales not covered by FEMA or for areas in need of higher standard maps, such as those accounting for future conditions or detailed topography. This proactive mapping activity is pivotal for both the community and its residents, enabling better zoning decisions, informing floodplain development restrictions, and ultimately guiding mitigation efforts.

Floodplain Management Programs

The cornerstone of the CRS is a commitment to robust floodplain management programs that do more than satisfy minimal guidelines—they aim to significantly reduce and prevent flood damage, aligning closely with the broader objectives of the NFIP. By incentivizing communities to surpass basic benchmarks, CRS aligns local actions with national flood resilience goals, providing a framework under which communities can become safer and better prepared for the inevitable challenges presented by flooding. The program’s structure underscores everything from emergency planning to public outreach, driving home the point that a well-rounded approach to floodplain management is not only recommended but rewarded.

Flood Insurance Coverage and Premiums

Flood insurance coverage is a crucial safety net for homeowners and businesses located in high-risk areas. The CRS program encourages communities to implement measures that can lead to higher CRS Class ratings, each progression advancing the potential for increased discounts on NFIP policy premiums for properties within the SFHAs. Today, this voluntary program encompasses more than 1,500 communities nationwide, covering over 3.6 million policyholders, which represents in excess of 70% of all NFIP policies. By aiming to work beyond the minimum NFIP requirements, participating communities are not only reducing their flood risk but also bolstering the insurance aspects of the NFIP and promoting a comprehensive strategy for managing floodplains.

Actions for Flood Risk Reduction

Through the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS), communities are empowered to reduce flood risk with a suite of mitigation activities that can yield substantial savings on flood insurance premiums for residents. Beginning typically at CRS Classes 9 or 8, communities residing in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) can access initial discounts of 5% to 10% respectively on flood insurance premiums. By participating in CRS, communities undertake a range of actions that can lead to enhanced National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy premium discounts of up to 45%.

As communities progress in their floodplain management efforts and climb the CRS Classes, the financial relief for residents corresponds, reflecting the community’s commitment to managing flood risk effectively. Not only do residents benefit financially, but enhanced public safety, decreased property damage incidents, and improved resilience against flood hazards underscore the program’s broader impact on community well-being.

Furthermore, CRS encourages communities to explore more comprehensive approaches to flood mitigation and adopt advanced practices. The focus on actions such as preserving natural floodplain functions, retrofitting buildings to better withstand rising water, and stringent building code enforcement chisel away at the community’s overall vulnerability to flood damage.

Floodplain Regulations and Development Standards

Proactive communities like King County in Washington and Shawnee, Kansas, have raised the bar for floodplain management by imposing regulations that outpace the minimum NFIP standards. King County has set a three-foot freeboard standard and compensatory storage requirements to offset the impact of fill in the floodplain, while Shawnee has elevated its freeboard requirement to two feet above the base flood elevation. These stringent local policies are illustrative of the progressive steps communities can take to ensure a more flood-resilient future.

At the core of Class 8 CRS prerequisites is the adoption and enforcement of at least one-foot of freeboard for new and substantially improved residential structures. This increased margin above the base flood elevation is a crucial element in enhancing flood protection. In states like Florida, CRS communities have aligned with this standard by enforcing elevation requirements for manufactured homes, fostering more robust defenses against flooding.

Comprehensive Floodplain Management Plans

By bolstering the CRS benchmarks, communities aim to reduce and avoid flood damage to insurable property, optimize the insurance aspects of the NFIP, and advance comprehensive community floodplain management activities. These management and planning activities are the linchpins that hold together the structure of a community’s efforts to improve public safety, cut back on property damage, minimize economic disruptions, and safeguard against loss from flood events.

The CRS program’s incentives nurture a forward-thinking attitude, prompting continual upgrades to floodplain management strategies and fostering a culture of preparedness and resilience. Communities with comprehensive floodplain management plans often earn a higher classification than those without a comprehensive plan.

Community Outreach Activities

Public outreach is the cornerstone of effective floodplain and watershed management under the CRS program. A myriad of creditable actions, exceeding 100 in total, are at the community’s disposal, spanning public education, precise mapping of flood risk areas, rigorous floodplain regulation enforcement, and comprehensive flood damage reduction exercises.

A new facet of public outreach is the introduction of the Program for Public Information (PPI) into the CRS manual. This initiative is designed to amplify the local government’s efforts in mitigating and preparing for flood risks via sustained public communication and educational ventures. These outreach activities are not just fulfilling CRS requirements but also fundamentally bolstering the informed decision-making skills of residents and stakeholders in flood-prone regions.

These outreach efforts are measured by FEMA and will count toward earning a lower classification for the community, allowing residents to unlock greater discounts when insuring their properties.

Technical Assistance and Resources

For those communities looking to navigate and excel within the CRS, a wealth of resources and assistance is available. The CRS Coordinator’s Manual and its 2021 Addendum serve as invaluable reference tools, laying out the program’s credit criteria and classification protocols while offering an exhaustive overview of CRS expectations and credit possibilities.

Communities are not left to grapple with CRS complexities alone; CRS Specialists stand by ready to provide guidance for joining the program and optimizing activities to secure higher premium discounts. Additionally, FEMA extends educational resources through a complimentary week-long CRS training course at the National Emergency Training Center in Maryland and a series of webinars delivered over the year to ensure community officials have the technical backing necessary to succeed within the CRS framework.

Benefits of Effective Floodplain Management

Effective floodplain management, a key aspect of the FEMA Community Rating System (CRS), has far-reaching benefits that extend beyond simple compliance. By deeply engaging in CRS floodplain management activities, communities prioritize public safety and actively work towards mitigating the impact of floods. The outcome of these efforts is multi-fold, resulting in the reduction of damage to both private and public properties. Steps taken to manage floodplains effectively curtail the potential for economic disruption and loss, which in turn decreases human suffering and aids in environmental protection. Moreover, CRS-driven management practices assist in preserving the integrity of public infrastructure, fortifying its resistance to the damaging effects of floodwaters.

Reduction in Flood Damage

The CRS program positions communities to cut the occurrence of flood-related damage drastically. When municipalities take rigorous measures to exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), they earn discounts on flood insurance premiums that range from 5% to 45%. This tiered discounting structure reflects the community’s reduced flood risk, which rightly translates into fewer flood damage cases. For property owners, decreased damage means a decline in the frequency and severity of insurance claims. It’s a synergistic effect: as the community strengthens its flood mitigation actions, both homeowners and business owners find themselves less burdened by the aftermath of flood events.

Lower Flood Insurance Premiums

A tangible benefit granted by the Community Rating System is the opportunity for residents to see significant savings on their flood insurance premiums through a tiered system of flood insurance discounts. Communities throughout America have taken the initiative to dive deeper into flood mitigation efforts, with over 1,500 participating in the CRS program. This participation is rewarded with flood insurance premium discounts that can reach up to 45%, depending on the level of flood risk reduction achieved through local floodplain management practices. Verified examples include Corte Madera and Riverside County, where conscientious floodplain management has led to an impressive 20% discount on flood insurance premiums, providing economic relief to local property owners and showcasing the potential savings available to CRS communities.

Protection of Public Infrastructure

Adopting and enhancing CRS floodplain management activities serve as a protective shield for a community’s public infrastructure. By actively minimizing the risk and impact of flooding, the CRS program helps communities preserve critical transportation routes, utilities, and emergency services that are often disrupted during a disaster. With incentives to consistently improve floodplain management programs, local governments can ensure that these vital systems can withstand flood situations, thereby safeguarding against the extensive costs and efforts associated with post-disaster infrastructure repair. Technical assistance is also readily provided at no charge to community officials, empowering them to plan and execute strategies effectively within the CRS to protect valued public resources.

Enhanced Resilience and Preparedness

Fostering a resilient community is at the heart of the Community Rating System. Through its incentivized structure, the CRS motivates community officials to adopt new and innovative flood risk reduction activities. This drive leads to a comprehensive approach to community planning and infrastructure development that inherently enhances overall resilience and preparedness. Implementing these strategies not only supports the insurance capabilities of NFIP but also fortifies communities against future flood-related challenges, instilling a proactive rather than reactive approach to dealing with the growing threat of flood hazards.

Case Study: Santa Clara County, California

Santa Clara County, located in California, is a prime example of a community that has actively participated in the Community Rating System (CRS) to enhance its floodplain management practices. With a population of over 2 million residents and a history of flooding events, the county recognized the importance of implementing measures to reduce flood risks and protect its citizens.

In 2015, Santa Clara County decided to join the CRS program to strengthen its floodplain management efforts. The county took proactive steps to exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and improve its overall resilience to flood hazards. By participating in the CRS, the county aimed to not only enhance its floodplain management practices but also provide financial incentives for its residents through discounted flood insurance premiums.

To kickstart their participation in the CRS program, Santa Clara County formed a dedicated team of floodplain management experts and community stakeholders to oversee the implementation of various activities outlined in the CRS Coordinator’s Manual. The team worked diligently to earn credit points by engaging in public information activities, mapping and regulations, flood damage reduction activities, and warning and response initiatives.

One of the key initiatives undertaken by Santa Clara County was the development of a comprehensive flood protection information program. The county established a flood protection library, maintained flood protection websites, and provided property protection advice to residents. Through outreach projects and hazard disclosure efforts, the county ensured that its citizens were well-informed about flood risks and equipped with the necessary resources to mitigate potential damages.

As a result of Santa Clara County’s proactive efforts, the community successfully improved its CRS rating from a Class 9 to a Class 7 within a span of five years. This significant achievement not only demonstrated the county’s commitment to enhancing its floodplain management practices but also enabled its residents to benefit from substantial discounts on their flood insurance premiums.

By participating in the CRS program, Santa Clara County has not only reduced flood risks and avoided property damage but also strengthened its overall resilience to future flood events. The county’s successful implementation of CRS initiatives serves as a model for other communities looking to enhance their floodplain management practices and protect their residents from potential flood hazards.

Case Study: Monroe County, Florida

Monroe County, located in the state of Florida, is a CRS community that has been actively participating in the Community Rating System (CRS) program to improve its floodplain management practices and reduce flood insurance premiums for its residents. The county has recognized the importance of implementing higher standards and undertaking new activities to achieve a better CRS class and enhance its resilience to flooding events.

Monroe County has been working closely with the CRS Coordinators Staff to explore premium discounts based on the number of policies and receive guidance on adopting additional higher standards. The county has also been reviewing the CRS Coordinators Manual and seeking assistance from the Florida Building Code Resources and Local Floodplain Management Ordinances pages to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

In order to maintain its CRS certification, Monroe County must recertify annually by February 1. The county diligently submits documentation for credited activities, such as annual reports, publicity of services offered, and outreach projects, to demonstrate its commitment to effective floodplain management.

Additionally, Monroe County undergoes verification visits every five years to verify the implementation of credited activities and ensure continued compliance with CRS guidelines. These visits provide an opportunity for the county to showcase its flood mitigation efforts and receive feedback from ISO/CRS Specialists.

By actively participating in the CRS program and earning credits through various activities, Monroe County has been able to earn a Class 3 rating, saving local property owners 35 percent on their insurance premiums. The county is also a member of the Florida Keys–Monroe County CRS Users Group, where it collaborates with other communities to achieve common flood mitigation goals and support one another in qualifying for CRS credit.

Overall, Monroe County serves as a successful example of a CRS community that prioritizes floodplain management and works towards building resilience to natural disasters. Through its proactive approach and commitment to higher standards, the county continues to enhance its CRS class and provide valuable benefits to its residents.

Creating a Sustainable Future for Communities

The FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) offers local communities the opportunity to proactively address and mitigate flood risks through enhanced floodplain management practices. By incentivizing and rewarding communities for their efforts, the CRS provides economic relief through reduced flood insurance premiums, protects public infrastructure, and fosters resilience and preparedness against future flood hazards. Through this program, communities can not only safeguard their residents and critical resources but also pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable future. As climate change intensifies and flood risks escalate, the CRS serves as a crucial tool in building safer and more resilient communities across the United States.

If you would like to know more about your local communities efforts to earn a lower CRS classification for your area, contact your local mayor or chief executives office and request to speak to the FEMA CRS Coordinator.

What is my communities FEMA CRS classification?

To find out, visit https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_crs_eligible-communities_apr-2024.pdf *

*: please note this information is subject to change based on various factors and may not be current at the time you are reading this.

Have questions about your home’s flood risk?

Contact your insurance agent or call the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at 1-877-336-2627

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