Kathleen Schaefer, P.E., CFM
Complex Systems Researcher, CCRM


Across the U.S. and worldwide, flooding is the deadliest and most costly natural disaster. The Natural Hazards Research and Mitigation Group at UC Davis has been analyzing NFIP databases, examining patterns over time and focusing on flood losses and flood insurance, particularly in California. Their research has shown that, over the history of NFIP, California is one of a few states that – through dry years and wet – has received only a small fraction of payments from NFIP, compared to the premiums it has paid in. Since 1994, NFIP damage payouts in California have totaled just 14% of premiums collected. (Compare this figure to 560% for the biggest recipient state, Mississippi). For California, this imbalance exceeds $3 billion (2015 dollars) over 21 years, funds that could have been invested in risk-reduction, floodplain management, and reduced premiums.

California has unparalleled expertise and a culture of progressive solutions for managing its flood risk; the state also has unique needs and intense pressures looking forward. With the US NFIP facing an uncertain future – more than $20 billion in debt and a challenging Congressional reauthorization discussion looming in 2017 – researchers at UC Davis recommend a careful look at California’s place in the NFIP. In particular, California should now explore a state flood insurance program, with savings invested in long-term risk reduction. Properly implemented, a state-based insurance program and proactive flood mitigation strategies could synergistically benefit the environment, agriculture, recreation, and water resources.  Such an approach has major challenges, with implications both for California and nationwide that should be explored.

This presentation will seek to tap into the multi-disciplinary expertise of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management to gain input as to potential next steps in developing a California-based flood insurance program.

Ms. Schaefer’s research is being conducted in collaboration with Nicholas Pinter, Rui Hui, and other researchers at the UC Davis Watershed Science Center who are using NFIP claims data to examine a wide variety of NFIP implementation issues.

Ms. Schaefer is a researcher with the UC Berkeley Center for Catastrophic Risk Management (CCRM). Her area of research centers around how to operationalize resilience against natural disaster risk.

Prior to joining CCRM, Ms. Schaefer held the position of Regional Engineer for FEMA Region IX. As Regional Engineer, she was responsible for managing over $10M in new mapping projects in California. Projects included a new coastal study of the San Francisco Bay, along with new mapping studies in Trinity, Modoc, Sierra, Plumas, Marin and Placer Counties. She enjoyed the opportunities for collaboration and community engagement that this position provided, including helping to lead a Blue Ribbon Technical Panel examining issues related to the use of 2-D modeling in flood studies. Other collaborative efforts included working with CA DWR, USACE, and ASFPM to help coordinate a Watershed University for community officials. The interagency collaboration that made the Watershed University a success was highlighted as a Silver Jackets best practice.

In 2009, Ms. Schaefer received the Floodplain Management Association’s Goddard Award for Outstanding Contribution to FMA newsletter. In 2012, she received the FMA Hogg-Owen Award for Meritorious Achievement.


Meeting Recording (link coming soon)

Meeting Presentation (link coming soon)

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