Updated: Jul 25
On this episode of UrbanHydro, host Shauna Urlacher explores the challenges and complexities of engineering studies and their role in grant applications for urban flooding projects. She highlights the lack of standardized requirements and varying contents of engineering studies, often missing critical information related to flood mitigation. Shauna discusses her role in reviewing engineering studies and preparing grant applications, emphasizing the importance of the project benefit-cost ratio (BCR) in determining eligibility for funding. She dispels common misconceptions about FEMA's BRIC program eligibility criteria, explaining that the project area does not have to be in a regulatory floodplain or special flood hazard area. Shauna also highlights the need for an engineering study to demonstrate project feasibility and effectiveness in addressing urban flooding risks. Tune in to this episode to gain insights into the complexities of BRIC grants and how they can support innovative solutions for urban flooding.
What Is Urban Flooding?
Urban flooding is a relatively new term. For those who haven't heard it before, urban flooding is a growing phenomenon, born out of a clash between urban development and weather. It's common in areas that lack modern stormwater infrastructure. We often see this in older neighborhoods not constructed to today's standards, but it can happen in any urban area. Flooding in urban areas is often the kind of flooding that results from excess ponding in yards and streets. It does not follow FEMA’s flood zones, nor are there mandatory flood insurance requirements in these areas.
Do you find your community in such a scenario often? If yes, I have some good news for you! The solution to your flooding problems might qualify for funding under FEMA's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. It's a competitive grant program offered by one of our federal agencies usually associated with disaster recovery and now offering federal funding to improve flood resilience.
Understanding FEMA's BRIC Program for Urban Flooding Solutions
Are neighborhoods in your community flooding and you wish you had the budget to fix it? Well, there's hope! In this blog post, we will delve into FEMA's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which provides local municipalities funding to combat urban flooding. Projects to resolve this flooding are eligible for FEMA BRIC funding–it's a new program specifically for preventative work. Aptly named, the goal is to help communities build resilience by fixing the stormwater management infrastructure before the next disaster or regular, seasonal event. It's an investment in the future of your community.
A prevalent misunderstanding, however, is that only areas within the regulatory floodplain or Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) are eligible for BRIC funding--but this isn't the case. The truth is, your project can be placed anywhere--from designated high-hazard flood zones to minimal flood-hazard zones (unshaded Zone X). Additionally, the BRIC Program does not require that the properties protected have flood insurance policies either.
Many misconceptions surround this program, but we're here to unravel them and help you understand how to navigate the grant sub-application process. From engineering studies to the Benefit-Cost Ratio, we'll cover all the important aspects that will increase your chances of securing funding. So let's join forces and work towards building resilient communities, one project at a time!
Constructing the Grant Application
While preparing the grant application for urban flooding projects, you have to illustrate that your project is not only possible but efficacious, mirroring the requirements for those projects in high-hazard flood zones. However, grant applications for mitigating urban flooding require an additional document: an engineering study.
Engineering Studies for urban flooding grants
Do you want to crack the code regarding securing grants for urban flooding? Engineering studies play a crucial role in securing urban flooding grants. Engineering studies can help identify flood-prone areas and evaluate potential mitigation strategies by identifying bottlenecks in the existing drainage system. An engineering study showcasing the present flood risk and the proposed solution's effectiveness in mitigating it is integral for your BRIC application.
Not all studies, however, are equal. There aren't standards for what's included in an engineering study–it is a general term, and the contents will vary widely from one study to another. These studies can include calculations, mapping of existing and proposed flooding areas, alternatives analysis, and cost estimates. However, many engineering studies weren't prepared with a federal grant application in mind. Shauna Urlacher, a specialist in FEMA grant writing, has found most engineering studies are missing some critical information needed for the BRIC sub-application.
Exploring Program Support Materials for Urban Flooding Grants
To support urban flooding projects, the BRIC program offers resources like guidance documents, webinars, workshops, and FEMA technical assistance. Sub-applicants can access the BRIC Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) and FAQs for guidance. The state emergency management office can also provide support to sub-applicants.
Pre-application Planning Phase
The BRIC program aims to prioritize nature-based solutions for reducing flood risks. Successful applications must be carefully planned to meet all of the BRIC program guidelines and requirements, including the qualitative and quantitative criteria.
It's paramount to thoroughly understand the engineering study that will support the grant application and what's absent in it before beginning the application process. As many engineering studies weren't prepared with a BRIC (or other FEMA grant) in mind, there may be additional information needed before beginning an application. This is one of the reasons why starting an application during the short application open window is usually too late.
Unpacking the Benefit-Cost Ratio
Another important facet of a BRIC application is the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR). The majority of the labor goes into the benefit-cost analysis and supporting documents. A project is deemed eligible for BRIC funding if its BCR is 1.0 or above.
There's a question Shauna frequently encounters and it's worth addressing: Can the grant application be stopped before completion if the project fails to achieve a BCR of 1.0 or higher? You can, but understand that completing the benefit-cost analysis and all the supporting documentation is the majority of the work that a grant writer does–so they've nearly completed the job at this stage. Pulling the plug at this juncture is illogical. Instead, starting with a planning phase considerably smoothens the process. This phase entails assessing the available data and verifying if the urban flooding project lines up with FEMA's goals. If the answer is affirmative, then it's all systems go!
In conclusion, understanding the data included in an engineering study that will support a FEMA BRIC grant for urban flooding projects is crucial. By cracking the code of programs like BRIC, your community can take advantage of funding opportunities to enhance its urban flooding preparedness and community resilience. Whether you're just starting or already in the application process, it's important to follow essential steps for success and best practices to maximize your chances of receiving funding. And don't forget to explore the program support materials to assist you in your journey.
For a more detailed understanding of the grant application process, check out my video guide or refer to my previous blog posts. The goal is simple: let's fix infrastructure and build resilient communities, one project at a time!