FEMA Community Rating System
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary program that incentivizes participants to take community floodplain management practices that reduce flood risk and exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). As a result, CRS jurisdictions can earn discounts on NFIP flood insurance premiums for their residents and gain additional benefits to build overall community resilience. The NFIP offers reduced flood insurance to all properties in communities that comply with federally designated minimum standards for floodplain management. The CRS accredits a jurisdiction’s flood adaptation efforts that go beyond those minimum standards by decreasing flood insurance premiums for property owners. Over 1,500 communities participate in CRS nationwide.
Communities that participate in the CRS are located in FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) (also known as 100-year floodplains or locations where there is a one-percent annual chance of a flood occurring). In order to award flood insurance discounts under the CRS, FEMA uses a tiered Class rating system, where NFIP premium discounts increase when a participating jurisdiction undertakes more actions and/or specified actions worth a higher point value. According to FEMA, most communities enter the program at a CRS Class 9 or Class 8 rating, which entitles residents in SFHAs to a five percent discount on their flood insurance premiums for a Class 9, and a ten percent discount for Class 8. Additional qualifying flood mitigation activities allow for increased NFIP policy premium discounts, in which each CRS Class improvement equates with another five percent discount on flood insurance premiums for properties in the SFHA up to a maximum 45-percent discount. In other words, the CRS provides an incentive for communities to initiate new flood risk reduction activities. The more credits a municipality earns, the greater the savings that property owners in those communities receive on their flood insurance.
Beyond lower-cost flood insurance rates, CRS participation can also provide localities with additional benefits. As communities improve flood mitigation strategies and preparedness, they become more resilient overall by enhancing public safety, and reducing damages to homes, businesses, infrastructure, and in turn, the local economy.
CRS Communities can improve their flood resilience and CRS Class ranking by implementing activities that meet these overall goals. The activities accredited under the CRS fall into the following four categories, and are listed in more detail below:
- Public Information
- Mapping and Regulations
- Flood Damage Reduction
- Warning and Response
- Activity 310 (Elevation Certificates) — Maintaining construction certificates and making them available to the public.
- Activity 320 (Map Information Service) — Providing Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMS) and other map information, and publicizing that service.
- Activity 340 (Hazard Disclosure) — Real estate agents’ advising potential purchasers of flood-prone property about the flood hazard, and local regulations requiring disclosure of the hazard.
- Activity 350 (Flood Protection Information) — Maintaining a community public library and/or website that contains flood-related information.
- Activity 360 (Flood Protection Assistance) — Advising property owners and renters about how to protect buildings from flooding and publicizing that service.
- Activity 370 (Flood Insurance Promotion) — Assessing flood insurance coverage in the community and implementing a plan to promote flood insurance.
Mapping and Regulations
- Activity 410 (Floodplain Mapping) — Developing regulatory maps for areas not mapped by FEMA or flood mapping based on future conditions, detailed topography, or other standards.
- Activity 420 (Open Space Preservation) — Keeping flood-prone land free of development.
- Activity 430 (Higher Regulatory Standards) — Developing local regulations that exceed the NFIP’s minimum criteria for floodplain management.
- Activity 440 (Flood Data Maintenance) — Gathering and/or maintaining more accessible, useful, and/or accurate floodplain data for regulations, insurance ratings, hazard disclosures, and property appraisals.
- Activity 450 (Stormwater Management) — Developing watershed plans and regulations that prevent future development from increasing flood hazards or diminishing water quality.
Flood Damage Reduction
- Activity 510 (Floodplain Management Planning) — Adopting flood hazard mitigation and/or natural functions plans using the CRS planning process, and/or conducting repetitive loss area analyses.
- Activity 520 (Acquisition and Relocation) — Acquiring insurable buildings and relocating them out of the floodplain and leaving the property as open space.
- Activity 530 (Flood Protection) — Protecting buildings from flood damage by floodproofing or elevation, or minor structural projects.
- Activity 540 (Drainage System Maintenance) — Conducting annual inspections of channels and retention basins, and maintenance of the drainage system’s flood-carrying and storage capacity.
Warning and Response
- Activity 610 (Flood Warning and Response) — Issuing timely warning of flood warnings threats and coordinating flood response activities.
- Activity 620 (Levees) — Developing annual levee inspection programs and plans to respond to floods caused by levee failure.
- Activity 630 (Dams) — Developing state dam safety programs and plans to respond to flooding caused by dam failure.
Under the first category for Public Information, an example qualifying activity for CRS accreditation is the development of a Program for Public Information (PPI). A PPI is a public outreach program designed to educate residents about flood hazards and adaptation. In turn, well-informed residents may take steps to protect themselves and their properties by retrofitting their homes, buying flood insurance, and planning for the next flood.
FEMA accredits or awards points for open space preservation, CRS Activity 420, in a weighted fashion based on the percentage of the SFHA that is preserved as open space. This element of the CRS program alone can earn a jurisdiction enough points to advance its community to the next CRS Class, which in turn provides an additional five-percent reduction in the cost of flood insurance for each new Class. Communities can also accrue additional points when the protected open space meets additional criteria, such as having deed restrictions prohibiting new development or for restoring the floodplain. Other CRS points can be earned for implementing natural shoreline protection measures, preserving or restoring wetland habitats, and more.
The CRS Coordinator’s Manual is FEMA's official guidebook for the CRS which sets the criteria for CRS credit and classifications — explaining what is credited, and how credits are calculated. The 2017 edition of the CRS Coordinator’s Manual is the most current; however, FEMA has produced a 2021 Addendum that became effective in January 2021. In turn, the 2021 Addendum and the 2017 Coordinator’s Manual together constitute the official statement of CRS credits and procedures. These two documents will remain effective until FEMA issues a fully revised edition of the Coordinator’s Manual in the future.
FEMA’s 2018 CRS guidance document, Community Rating System: The Local Official's Guide to Saving Lives, Preventing Property Damage and Reducing the Cost of Flood Insurance offers a brief, introductory overview of how the CRS works.
For more information, other useful guides to the Community Rating System reviewed in the Adaptation Clearinghouse include:
- Flood Protection Pay-Offs: A Local Government Guide to the Community Rating System by Wetlands Watch
- The CRS Green Guide for Community Resilience from the Association of State Floodplain Managers
- Surging Seas Guide to the Community Rating System
Publication Date: 2017
- Best practice
- Planning guides