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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

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Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage Desk Reference

By Bill Lesser, FEMA CRS Coordinator

If you ever had the opportunity to visit a flood disaster site or a disaster field office, you probably noticed a number of Federal and state agencies on site as part of the disaster response. Each agency has its own authorities to respond to and may have a different set of stakeholders. They may be state, Federal, military, private or public. Coordinating all these groups and concerns can be a challenge.

One thing they all can agree on, though, is that all are on scene to assist the public to recover from, prepare for, or mitigate against flooding. Good planning and coordination are critical to success.

A Challenge and a Shared Mission to Mitigate Flood Risk

Unlike a disaster setting where goals are obvious, agreed-upon, and immediate, in a non-disaster setting, the challenge has been to create an environment of continuous and effective collaboration among state and Federal agencies that may have differing goals, timelines, funding sources, stakeholders and so on. To encourage non-disaster collaboration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has promoted an initiative known as Silver Jackets. Multiple agencies work together during disasters as part of the National Response Framework, allowing them to share their experiences. The Silver Jackets does the same thing during sunny-day initiatives.

Some of the agencies involved in the Silver Jackets program might include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), USACE, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

State participants may include the state Hazard Mitigation Officer and the National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator or the Department of Natural Resources and the Emergency Management Agency. Behind the scenes, you might find the National Weather Service (NWS), the Department of Housing and Development (HUD), and the Economic Development Administration (EDA).

We all share the aim to make our communities safer. Mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. Mitigation is taking action now—before the next disaster—to reduce human- and financial consequences later. Effective mitigation requires that we all understand local risks, address the hard choices, and invest in long-term community well-being. Without mitigation actions, we jeopardize our safety, financial security, and self-reliance.

The Silver Jackets: Joining Forces

Sometimes mitigation needs to begin in the aftermath of a disaster. Silver Jackets is an innovative program at the state level that provides an opportunity for multiple state, Federal, tribal and local agencies to form a team that allows the members to learn from one another and apply their shared knowledge to reduce risks. This coordination allows a consistent response and knowledge base to be built and opens new roads to cooperation.

State and Federal coordination is also essential to the Silver Jackets mission. State agencies come together with the Federal family of agencies in a forum to address the state’s flood risk and floodplain management priorities. No single agency has all the answers. A Silver Jackets team can bring a broader set of solutions to a community’s flood problems than a single agency-centered solution and can also reduce duplication of effort. Currently there are 33 active state teams.

Why the Name Silver Jackets?

Traditionally, different agencies wear different colored jackets when responding to emergencies. For example, FEMA personnel wear blue, and USACE personnel wear red. The name Silver Jackets is used to underscore the common mission of the diverse agencies involved.

Each state-led Silver Jackets or interagency team will be different in its approach in addressing flood risk management issues, but the goals are similar across the nation. The primary goals driving each team are as follows:

  • Collaboratively identify, prioritize, and address flood risk management issues;
  • Improve risk communication through a unified interagency effort;
  • Leverage information and resources;
  • Capitalize on the statewide mitigation plan to focus implementation strategies; and
  • Identify gaps or barriers among agency programs.

The CRS Link

The NFIP Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. As a result, flood insurance premium rates in that community are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from the community actions meeting the three goals of the CRS:

  1. Reduce flood damage to insurable property;
  2. Strengthen and support the insurance aspects of the NFIP; and
  3. Encourage a comprehensive approach to floodplain management.

For background on the CRS, see our recent NFIP "Rating and the Community Rating System" article.

Since the CRS program and the Silver Jackets teams have a common goal to better manage flood risks and floodplains, there are ample opportunities for Silver Jackets teams to provide support and technical assistance to CRS communities. In some instances, Silver Jackets teams and their members can help with specific projects that can be counted for CRS credit by communities: This is especially important since many communities have limited budgets and resources. Pooling resources and assistance can increase local implementation of good floodplain management practices.

Ultimately, making a commitment to CRS is a community decision and requires community action. However, for the Silver Jackets teams, knowing about these opportunities and anticipating community needs for technical assistance in understanding CRS may lead to direct community support through the state and will help reduce flood damages, increase citizen safety, and make communities more disaster resilient.

Under CRS, communities can undertake many eligible floodplain management tasks aimed at the basic goals of floodplain management planning and public education.

Making It Work Together

Information and contacts are essential tools in the interlocking local, state, and Federal disaster response and mitigation system. Bringing as many resources as possible to as many communities as we can is a shared goal for all of us. The Silver Jackets team is another part of that interwoven system.

Bill Lesser is a Senior Planner in the Risk Reduction Division of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration of FEMA. He is responsible for overall coordination of CRS within FIMA.

For more information:

The National Response Framework: Visit the NRF website page.

For more information and examples of Silver Jackets generating successes, readers are invited to check out the Silver Jackets website and posted best practices.

Background, resources, and other information about the FEMA Community Rating System are available at the FEMA CRS page:


For more information about the CRS or to obtain the CRS application, contact the Insurance Services Office by phone at (317) 848-2898 or by email.

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