Properties elevated above the flood level in Alabama’s Baldwin County. Photo credit WPMI.

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the country. For the residents of coastal Alabama and Mississippi, who are impacted by flooding regularly, one of the smart ways to protect their property is through flood insurance, which covers $28.5 billion worth of properties in both states combined. However, many of those property-owners at-risk lack knowledge and resources to navigate the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). That’s why Alabama’s Weeks Bay and Mississippi’s Grand Bay Reserves are helping floodplain managers rise to the challenge of protecting their communities.

An elevation certificate is a critical piece of paperwork mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) NFIP. It describes the building location, lowest floor elevation, flood zone, and other characteristics—all of which are necessary to enforce local ordinances and determine insurance rates. These certificates are often filled out incorrectly and thus rejected by FEMA, leaving properties vulnerable.

In response, Weeks Bay Reserve and Grand Bay Reserve partnered to host three Elevation Certificate trainings in 2018 and 2019, reaching more than 100 participants, including floodplain managers, planners, city and county officials, building inspectors, code enforcement staff,  land surveyors, engineers, insurance companies, and real estate representatives.

“Many participants were surprised at what they didn’t know or were doing wrong,” says Margo Posten, coastal training program coordinator for Grand Bay Reserve. “Floodplain managers asked us for this training, and a lot of them found it exceptionally useful.”

The need for the training was identified by the Southern Alabama Flooding Engagement Team (SAFE-T), which Weeks Bay Reserve is an active participant in, and augmented with the perspectives of a coastal Mississippi flooding user group. Weeks Bay staff worked with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), the state agency responsible for administration of the NFIP, as part of the training. 

“This is very hands-on class from the perspective of someone who fills out Elevation Certificates,” said one workshop participant in a post-workshop review. “Most beneficial class I have been to in years!”

“For me, a highlight of the training was the interaction between local floodplain managers, the state-level agency people, the insurance representatives, and the surveyors,” says Mike Shelton, coastal training program coordinator at Weeks Bay Reserve. “Instead of being in a fraught or adversarial mindset, workshop participants were able to provide their perspectives to the examples identified by the instructor.”

As a result of these trainings, theAlabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors.d is planning to hold its own elevation certificate workshop at their state-wide annual meeting. Because of the overwhelming response from other participants, the Reserves also plan to hold future trainings.

“Having partners, including other NERRs, for training such as this is really invaluable,” says Posten. “I know that I personally don’t have expertise in all the different topic areas that our diverse audiences need training in. Partners are the key—they bring their expertise to the training and often access to professional experts.”

ReservesGrand Bay, MississippiRising to the Challenge