As members of Congress debate different approaches to rescue the National Flood Insurance Program from billions in debt, more frequent and powerful storms are impacting the entire region and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing a nine-year effort to update flood maps.

A series of flood risk maps were completed and issued after Superstorm Sandy, but a decision was made three years ago to begin the entire process again from the start.

“We are in the process of updating and revising flood hazard mapping for coastal New Jersey and parts of New York,” said Andrew Martin, the chief of the Risk Analysis Branch for FEMA Region II.

In the Garden State, this includes Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties, as well as along the Raritan Bay into Middlesex, Essex, Union, Hudson and Bergen counties.

He explained the current mapping for most of these communities dates back to the early 1980s and “the methodology and the technology and even the data that we’re able to capture have vastly improved since that time.”

Martin noted the storm surge analysis part of the review should be completed by late next year.

“And then we have to conduct the wave height analysis, the site specific wave hazard modeling, flood mapping for each section of the coastline from south to north.”

That work should be completed by late 2020 and new preliminary maps should be issued in 2021.

“We’ll provide information that tells property owners and communities what the elevation of that flood will be during that storm, including wave heights and wave hazards.”

New flood maps will list requirements for all properties and structures that are built in those areas, specifying how high above the water they will need to be and what kind of flood insurance the owners should have.

Martin said this can mean insurance premium costs will gradually increase for the owners of some structures so that over the course of several years the premiums paid will no longer be subsidized and they will reflect the actual true risk rate that is present.

In other cases, homes that were not previously required to be covered by flood insurance will now be required to carry insurance but their premiums will start at a relatively low rate and increase over a period of several years.

“Yes, folks will be required to carry flood insurance, and yes it’s an additional expense, but we believe it’s reasonable given that there is risk there.”

He stressed insurance “does help people get back to whole after a major, catastrophic flood much faster than if they did not have insurance.”

He said the goal here is to make sure “communities and property owners have the best possible understanding of what their flood risk looks like and we’re constantly improving our processes to make sure we’re giving that information to the communities.”

He added another goal is to make the National Flood Insurance Program more solvent.

“How we do that is by improving the accuracy of the maps and making sure as many people as possible understand what their risk is so they buy flood insurance.”

He also noted as more people get flood insurance, the cost to all taxpayers in decreased.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com