Town officials are criticizing an article published last week in USA TODAY that stated that North Kingstown was ill prepared for Hurricane Sandy, calling the piece “factually inaccurate” and defending the town’s preparedness for flooding.
The article, which was featured on the newspaper’s front page on Nov. 1, highlighted communities hit by Hurricane Sandy that have received the lowest ratings from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in terms of flood preparedness. In the article, USA TODAY states that many cities and towns slammed by Sandy have done "little to protect themselves from flood damage, ignoring federal incentives." According to Town Manager Michael Embury, this statement is misleading and “just plain wrong.”
“It tries to shed a bad light on us,” said Embury. “But it’s just factually incorrect.”
The ratings that USA TODAY cites are from FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS), which is an incentive program and not mandatory. Communities are rated 1o to 10 (with 10 being the worst). Communities with better ratings receive more discounts residents will receive on their flood insurance. North Kingstown is currently rated at 9, which results in a 5 percent discount on flood insurance to residents.
“It ‘s an incentive program, not a mandatory program, that municipalities do because they’ve gone above and beyond,” said North Kingstown Planning Director Jon Reiner.
Even though North Kingstown is on the lower end of the rating scale, it is one of only three communities in Rhode Island that have qualified and is part of the incentive program. Communities that have encouraged the education of its residents, have installed a notification system and other preparedness measures are qualified for the program. Municipalities that are not in the program do not receive any discounts. According to Reiner, two other communities in Rhode Island (Westerly and Bristol) are trying to get into the program.
USA TODAY also named Portsmouth and Charlestown as participants in the program and gave them 8 ratings. According to FEMA, neither municipality is involved in the program – but Narragansett and Middletown are, both with 8 ratings.
“These are the best of the best in terms of coastal floodplain and hazard mitigation planning,” said Reiner.
According to Reiner and Embury, North Kingstown has taken big steps to keep residents in the know, from educational materials to the code red phone system. During Hurricane Sandy, residents in low-lying and coastal areas received two calls warning them about the storm surge and high tide, which brought flooding in many areas. Despite the town’s work, North Kingstown’s geography and current development will forever be a problem, as most of the coastline has been developed.
Getting to the elusive 1 rating, which grants residents a whopping 45 percent discount on flood insurance, requires a lot of time and manpower, said Reiner.
“Municipalities with a 1 typically have an entire department devoted to just this,” said Reiner.
According to Reiner, he expects North Kingstown to enter the 8 rating in the next year or so, giving residents a 10 percent discount on flood insurance. Next month, the North Kingstown Planning Department will have its biannual meeting with FEMA to go over past, present and future projects to boost NK’s preparedness and aim for a higher rating.