The growing lack of interest in new dam construction and the demolishing of some existing ones pose increased problems for cities located along rivers. These problems and concerns are increased by the current questions about the long-range desirability of artificial levees. It is agreed that large cities must be protected. No one favors tearing down the levee that protected St. Louis in 1993. But there is debate about the best way to protect life and property in the light of present knowledge and public sentiment.
Floodplain zoning is one good option, but the idea has received a less-than-enthusiastic response from local governments. There is intense local political pressure in many parts of the country against restrictions on development, particularly from real estate interests. Real estate developers almost always are opposed to restrictions on the uses (residential, commercial, industrial) to which they may put their property. Americans in general do not favor restrictions on the use of private property, and most floodplain land is privately owned. Zoning laws are often accompanied by building codes or construction standards that include floodproofing requirements such as placing shields around buildings, or erecting buildings on stilts that raise the bottom floor to several feet above ground level.
Perhaps it would be more acceptable to simply require that prospective buyers or builders be informed by the local government of the risk they would be taking by building on the floodplain. If they then chose to take this risk, at least they would be aware of the danger. In 1997 California became the first state to pass such a law, which took effect in June 1998. The law requires that a seller give a prospective buyer a "Natural Hazard Disclosure Statement" that includes information on the potential for flooding, whether there is a fire hazard in the vicinity, and the location of the property in relation to potential earthquakes.
Even in areas where land use is controlled, there may still be the potential for loss of life and damage from very large floods. There are no ironclad guarantees of safety near riverbanks. However, a carefully prepared plan should be developed defining who does what in case of an emergency. This involves the police, civil authorities, and all emergency services and requires a clear understanding of what might happen, where, and how quickly. It therefore relies on accurate risk assessment to specify the areas likely to be flooded and the escape routes that might be used. Emergency response plans should be developed and reviewed from time to time in consultation with all concerned and should be clearly announced to the public.
In an effort to encourage local communities to stop destroying wetlands and building in floodplains, to manage urbanization wisely, and to include flood prevention in their land-use planning, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) inaugurated a program called Project Impact: Building a Disaster Resistant Community. FEMA helps governments work with businesses, educational leaders, and environmentalists in their communities. Together they can alter zoning laws, buy out floodplains, and discourage potentially disastrous development.
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Remember to prepare for everyone in the home. When you are putting together a plan to prepare in the case of an emergency, it is very important to remember to plan for not only yourself and your children, but also for your family pets and any guests who could potentially be with you at the time of the emergency.