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By amoats
On July 30, 2020

Lesson Plan: The Power of Geographic Data: FEMA Floodplain Maps

How the National Flood Insurance Program works

Orice Williams Brown, director of the Government Accountability Office - Financial Markets and Community Investment describes the origins and function of the NFIP.


Geographers use geographic data to create maps that solve real world problems. These maps can guide individuals, communities and states in making decisions about how best to interact with the environment. An important consideration in land use planning is the construction of homes, businesses and infrastructure on floodplains. Each year, flooding causes more damage to human built infrastructure than any other natural process. The Federal government teams with local insurance providers to offer flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) oversees this program. The Federal government provides subsidies to homeowners and businesses located in floodplains to defray the high cost of insurance. Insurance rates are much higher if a FEMA map determines your property is located in a flood plain. But how are these maps created, and where does the data come from? These are important questions because floodplain maps have a real impact on individual families, business owners and communities as they seek to obtain affordable insurance and plan infrastructure and development projects that mitigate flood water damage.


  • Warm-Up

    Answer the following questions to begin class.

    1. Do you think floods are predictable?

    2. How can we prepare for a flooding event?

    3. Who do you think pays more for car insurance, risky drivers with accidents and speeding tickets or safe drivers with no speeding tickets? Explain your answer.
  • Introduction

    Geographic data is important in predicting the frequency and severity of floods. In this lesson, students will be introduced to the importance of floodplain maps and how they are used to assess risk, determine insurance rates and guide zoning and planning efforts. They will have access to real FEMA floodplain risk assessment maps and use them to make decisions about land use and planning. Key to student understanding in this lesson is the ability for students to make the connection between how the geographic data as depicted on the floodplain maps affects individuals and communities by setting insurance rates, subsidies through NFIP, and dictating how flood-prone areas can be developed and utilized.

    Have the students watch the videos and answer the questions on the FEMA Floodplain Maps handout. After discussing their answers and ensuring they have a clear connection between the use of floodplain maps and the setting of insurance rates and the delivery of subsidies, Instruct the student to participate in the FEMA Floodplain Map activity.

    Handout: FEMA Floodplain Maps (Google Doc)

    Activity: FEMA Floodplain Map Research (Google Doc)


  • Video Clip: How the National Flood Insurance Program works

    1. Who administers the NFIP?

    2. How does the Federal government subsidize people that participate in the NFIP?

    3. What percentage of the insurance costs is subsidized by the Federal government?

    4. What types of structures are going to lose their subsidy under the proposed changes?
  • Video Clip: Arguments For Ending NFIP subsidies (2:53)

    1. What is the current state of the finances of the NFIP?

    2. How will altering subsidies help this this financial situation?
  • Video Clip: Arguments Against Ending NFIP Subsidies (:45)

    1. Why does Senator Chuck Schumer feel ending these subsidies is unfair to homeowners?
  • Video Clip: Geographic Data and National Flood Plain Insurance Program (1:52)

    1. What is the basis of Representative Doris Matsui’s proposal for an amendment to this bill?

    2. Why do you think Representative Doris Matsui wants the best technology available to be used to construct flood plain maps?

    3. Did the other members of the House of Representatives support the amendment?

    4. Why do you think there was bipartisan support for this amendment?
  • Video Clip: Introduction to Risk MAP (YouTube) (3:17)

    1. What does the MAP acronym in Risk MAP stand for?

    2. What benefits of Risk MAP are shown in the video? Can you think of any that are not shown?
  • Video Clip: Map Data Collection (YouTube) (2:44)

    1. What methods are used to collect geographic information for flood plain maps?

    2. Does geographic data collection look like a process that requires a lot of funding? What specific things in the video support your answer?

    3. How do you think this relates to the amendment proposed by Representative Doris Matsui?
  • Application Activity

    Navigate to the FEMA Flood Map Service Center(External Website).

    Using the handout linked below, explore the FEMA Flood Map website and answer the questions about each location's risk.

    Activity: FEMA Floodplain Map Research (Google Doc)

  • Conclusion

    As an exit ticket, answer the following questions before leaving class:

    1. Why is accurate geographic data important when creating floodplain maps?

    2. How do floodplain maps potentially affect the lives of home and business owners in flood-prone areas?

    3. Do you feel that accurate geographic information about floodplains can help political leaders make fair decisions about NFIP subsidies? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources


  • 100 Year Flood
  • Administer
  • Amendment
  • Fema
  • Floodplain
  • Geographic Information System
  • Insurance Premiums
  • Nfip
  • Subsidy


Environmental Policy & Land UseGeography


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