Only eight percent of Louisiana cities and 25 percent of its participate in a federal program that allows authorities a chance to give residents a break on flood insurance premiums, 

Those percentages still put Louisiana in the top 10 of states involved in the program in 2015, according to  the first of a series of reports outlining recommendations for how the region moves forward. The release of the report by the Center for Planning Excellence, a non-profit group based in Baton Rouge which led the "Louisiana Speaks" planning effort after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, comes as many in south Louisiana continue to struggle with recovery efforts following devastating August floods.

The report focuses on how the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System can help communities handle floods while reducing the amount residents pay for flood insurance.

“As a region, we should use every tool available to develop in a manner that supports the insurability, financial sustainability and safety of our communities,” said Camille Manning-Broome, senior vice president at CPEX, in a press release.

The rating system allows parishes and cities to voluntarily take actions that go beyond what is required by the National Flood Insurance Program. The rating is based on the number and type of actions the community takes. The better the rating, the larger the discount in flood insurance premiums. The extra actions generally involve providing public information, mapping and regulations, reducing flood damage and flood preparation.

It’s similar to the fire ratings that give homeowners a break on insurance premiums, explained Cindy O’Neal, state coordinator of the National Flood Insurance Program with the state Department of Transportation and Development, which administers the program in Louisiana.

DOTD provides training and assistance to parishes and cities that want to get involved in the program and has a staff person assigned to the task, she said.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, the rating is six, one of the best in the state, which saved rate payers about $3 million in 2014. Jefferson and Terrebonne are also rated as a six and resulted in insurance premium savings of more than $17 million a year and $1.1 million a year, respectively.

But, pulling together the documents and information needed to qualify for the program and then earning points is a bigger job than many local governments, already stretched financially, can manage, said Jeannette Dubinin, Climate Resilience Project Manager with the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX).

“There’s a lot of documents spread out everywhere,” she said.

Getting a better rating can also call on setting aside land where no development can occur or adopting structure elevations that are above what is required by the flood program. There is typically no direct benefit to government.

O’Neal said a city might just have a handful of residents with flood insurance through the federal program, so it doesn’t make economic sense to put time, effort and money into getting into the rating program. There are other places where the parish can't meet FEMA's basic requirements -- such as a coastal community with a base flood elevation of eight feet for structures. Nothing under the structure can be enclosed to qualify for the rating program and many elevated homes along the coast have enclosures.

The report recommends improving local government's ability to handle the additional work it takes to participate, including providing more education or supporting the regional groups now working on the program.

“There are organizations out there who have taken it upon themselves to help communities with this and have been very successful,” Dubinin said.

These include the regional groups that work in Jefferson, St. Tammany and Terrebonne parishes, the Baton Rouge area, New Orleans, and southwestern Louisiana parishes.

Groups working to support these efforts include the University of New Orleans Center Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology, SeaGrant, Louisiana DOTD and the Insurance Service Office, she said.

“These recommendations recognize that this is a time of significant fiscal limitations for the State of Louisiana,” according to the report, but the Community Rating System should be seen as an investment that will pay large returns.

Subsequent reports will focus on building to better handle disasters, whether they are floods, storms or hurricanes.


Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.