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Monday, October 23, 2006

FEMA focuses anew on Lake O, Miami
By John Lantigua

FEMA announced today that it will invest some $4 million over the next two years to develop more accurate flood plain maps, better evacuation strategies and improved post-hurricane response and recovery measures, first in the Lake Okeechobee region and then for the coastal areas of South Florida from the Keys to Palm Beach County.

Speaking at a press conference at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, FEMA Director David Paulison said technicians contracted by the agency will do new aerial "laser mapping" of the lands around the lake, which should predict much more accurately where serious flooding will occur if the dike fails.

The technique that will be employed is called high-resolution Light Detection and Ranging - or LiDAR.

"It's one thing to say you have water in your yard, and it's another thing to say your house has been swept away," said Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who also spoke at the press conference. "Right now, we have estimates of how much water might end where, but they can only predict between a yard or two of depth. We want to get it down to within a foot."

Fugate said such mapping would greatly improve evacuation planning.

He also said he expects the new mapping will affect the charts that insurance companies use to determine which homeowners are required to have flood insurance and which are not. Many homeowners in the Lake Okeechobee region do not have flood insurance because it is not required.

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