NFIP Outreach + Engagement Research at the NYC MOCR

I’m entering my third week of my fellowship with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency and I have to say I am loving it! I’ve already learned so much about working in local governments and my knowledge of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program has grown exponentially since being here. I’m working with the Land Use and Buildings Team within the MOCR and my team is small, but they’ve been so welcoming and helpful.

Elise Birkett last fall

This summer I’ll be developing a memorandum and presenting a set of recommendations for integrating existing and new outreach strategies for a longterm engagement campaign focused on increasing public awareness of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for residents who live, or are expected to live in the near future, in the NYC floodplain. FEMA is changing its risk rating methodology and this new methodology, known as Risk Rating 2.0, is likely to cause significant changes to the over 400,000 NYC residents living in the 1% annual chance floodplain, so developing a strategy that effectively communicates these changes, and flood risks in general, to NYC residents is a critical need for the city.

For the most part I’ll be working remotely this summer, however the MOCR team does frequent site visits to see the different projects they are working on with various city agency, organization, and private company partnerships. Since I’m living in the city, this is a great opportunity for me to meet the team in person and see first-hand the results of the work the office does. Last week the team had a site visit at Coney Island and did a walking tour, led by Eric Wilson, the Deputy Director of Land Use and Buildings. The tour was super interesting and informative and gave me the chance to see coastal storm and sea level rise resiliency projects in action. Just a few of the things we saw, include:

  • Post-Hurricane Sandy resiliency projects that NYCHA (New York Housing Authority) has done with a $3 billion grant from FEMA at the Coney Island public houses. One of the most significant retrofits NYCHA did was replace the destroyed central broiler with a new one that is located above the design flood elevation, meaning that it is less likely to be damaged in future flooding events or sea level rise.
  • Coastal protection work being done at Coney Island Creek. The Creek is undergoing an EPA assessment to determine whether it will become a new Superfund site.
  • Post-Sandy retrofits at the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. During Hurricane Sandy, the library saw 5 feet of flooding, which destroyed much of the property that was located on the ground floor. The renovations have rebuilt much of what was lost and it was great to see such an important public resource open for the people.

The site visit was a great way to see resiliency work in the city and the challenges that come along with it. Everyone has been so welcoming and patient with all of my many questions, and I’m lucky that even with remote work I’ve gotten the chance to put actual people to the faces I’ve been seeing in virtual meetings. After a year and a half of working remotely, I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing how to keep myself productive throughout the day. I’m fortunate enough to live two blocks from Central Park, so I’ve been trying to take a walk there either before or after work, or during my lunch break sometimes, to help break up the hours spent staring at my screen.

It’s only been three weeks, but I’m really enjoying my work with the MOCR. I’ve spent most of my time so far catching up on the office’s past outreach and education strategies to improve improve community understanding of flood insurance, but I’m beginning to develop my own recommendations and will be spending the next couple weeks preparing the first draft of my memorandum. I’ve really appreciated being able to sit in on the city and federal agency meetings because it’s given me an up-close look at how different levels of government collaborate alongside local organizations. My fellowship is only 10 weeks, so I’m planning to absorb and learn as much as I can while I’m here.

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