Official maps that are supposed to guide homeowners and communities on areas prone to flooding are obsolete and unreliable, a federal investigation found. Despite a multi-year modernization effort, 70 percent of the maps are more than 10 years old, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concluded in a 63-page report, which also found that many of the flood plains on the maps were hand-drawn and are difficult to update. The criticism is the latest to be leveled at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been widely blamed for mishandling the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
As part of its management of the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA maintains more than 90,000 maps to show areas where flood insurance is advisable and where construction would be risky. However, new developments in flood zones have generally rendered the maps inaccurate and obsolete. Faulty maps have a major impact on people and property owners. Local communities rely on these maps to help them limit construction within flood zones and to determine who can buy federal flood insurance.
The inspector general’s report raises serious questions about federal funding for the modernization effort, a $1.5 billion, six-year project that is intended to post accurate and easily updated digital maps on the Internet by 2010. The program already is behind schedule, and many state governments said that federal funding is far short of what they need to provide correct mapping information.