Insider’s Q & A with Randy Behm

Jun 9, 2015 | News & Views, What's New

Q & A with Randy Behm

ASFPM organized a Question
& Answer with
Randall Behm, PE, CFM, and Chair of the
National Nonstructural Flood Proofing Committee

with the United States Army Corps of Engineers
for the Omaha District.

Q: How about we start with your background. Where did you go to college, and what is your degree in?

A: I graduated in May 1985 from the University of Nebraska (Omaha and Lincoln) with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering.

Q: Did you go into college knowing you wanted to be an engineer, or did something happen that moved you in that direction?

A: When I was 10 years old, my grandfather and I hiked along a portion of the Missouri River in western Iowa and he told me stories of how he had worked for the Corps of Engineers as a young man during the early 1900s, assisting in the construction of willow mats and timber structures for use as stream bank protection along the Missouri River. From that point forward, I always had an interest in becoming an engineer and being involved with river engineering and floodplain management.

Q: How long have you been with the USACE? Always in the Omaha District?

A: I started with USACE in June 1985, right after college graduation. While I have always been located in the Omaha District, my interests in flood risk management and nonstructural flood proofing have enabled me to become involved in and support a variety of studies and projects from across the country. The NFPC committee has provided me numerous opportunities to observe flood risk across the country and participate in activities leading to a reduction in those risks.

Q: Have you been the chair of the National Nonstructural Flood Proofing Committee since it was founded in 1985?

A: The Charter for the National Nonstructural Flood Proofing Committee was established during 1985 with the objective of supporting HQUSACE by providing leadership in the development and use of nonstructural flood risk adaptive measures by providing support for all USACE floodplain and flood risk management activities. I came onto NFPC during 2001 as an advisor and worked my way into a member role and then the executive sec-retary position, prior to assuming the duties of the chair during 2011. The current committee has had the benefit of previous members who were influential in establishing the first committee and laying the foundation for the nonstructural and floodplain management activities, which we still advocate today.

Q: When did you become a Certified Floodplain Manager? Was it required or was it something you felt you needed?

A: I became a CFM during January 2003. After becoming chief of the Flood Risk and Floodplain Management Sec-tion in Omaha during 2001, I heard about the CFM® program and felt that my entire office should consider certi-fication under this program, as the program was very relevant to the work we were conducting within the Oma-ha District. I requested the exam be proctored in Omaha, and with that exam our group became the first CFMs certified in the state of Nebraska. Certification through the CFM program is an exceptional way to illustrate one’s understanding of the basic principles of floodplain management and to establish a network of people and resources dedicated to these same principles.

Q: Can you discuss briefly some of the nonstructural flood proofing measures communities can take?

A: There are a large number of physical and nonphysical nonstructural measures which may be considered by communities for reducing their overall flood risk. The physical measures are directed toward specific structures (residential, commercial, industrial, public) which are exposed to flood risk. These physical measures, when ap-plied correctly, allow the structure to adapt to the natural characteristics of the floodplain so that there may be a reduction in future flood damages. Several of the typical physical nonstructural flood proofing techniques are acquisition, relocation, elevation (on piers, columns, post, fill), dry flood proofing, wet flood proofing, and basement removal with utility addition. Nonphysical nonstructural measures include floodplain mapping, flood warning systems, emergency action plans, land use regulations, evacuation plans, risk communication and flood insurance. While these nonphysical measures do not result in a reduction in flood damages to a structure, they may provide knowledge and critical time to the inhabitants of at-risk structures to implement precautionary measures (move valuables, evacuate) to limit damages and to prevent loss of life.

Q: Can you give an example of a community (or two) that moved from say, a levee control, to a more nonstruc-tural approach? Have they been put to the test yet—like held back flood waters after a hard or sustained rain event?

A: There are pockets of successful nonstructural mitigation located all across the US, with more occurring every day. Many communities that have opted for nonstructural mitigation over structural measures are doing so through USACE programs, FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant programs, Housing and Urban Development programs, through personal desires, or through other state and federal programs. Examples of successful nonstructural flood risk adaptive measures occur in Tehama, CA; Darlington, WI; Roseville, CA; Pierre, SD; New Orleans, LA; Boulder, CO; the Tug Fork Valley of Kentucky and West Virginia; as well as the area recovering from Hurricane Sandy. While the level to which many of these projects have been tested varies, the important thing to remem-ber is that successful efforts are taking place to reduce an individual’s or community’s exposure to flood risk.

Q: Larry Larson, ASFPM’s director emeritus, was talking about a fairly recent flood event, maybe 2011, on the Missouri, where the levee kept getting washed out. So you suggested to the property owners that they set aside land so that the levee could be built farther back from the river. Can you talk a bit about that?

A: Over the past 30 years I have seen significant flooding firsthand. While I believe that we should utilize all non-structural and structural tools available to reduce flood risk, it has become an opinion of mine that, in some in-stances, we continue to encounter “trouble spots” along some levee systems, where time and again segments of these levees are significantly damaged during a flood, repaired, and then damaged again during the next flood. In essence, we as a nation are promoting repetitive loss infrastructure, where we continue to do the same thing after each flood event, hoping that we will see different results in the future. During and after the Missouri River flood of 2011, I had the opportunity, the available resources, and the interest of other engineers to assess several areas of repetitive damages downstream from Omaha. Our assessment indicated that if spe-cific segments of damaged levees could be setback from the river instead of being rebuilt in-place, the result would be lower flood stages, lower velocities, and a more resilient and sustainable levee system. Additionally, the lower flood stages could result in more benefit by allowing the water trapped by interior drainage to flow back into the river sooner. What was also significant about this assessment is the fact that numerous property owners were supportive of doing something different. They had seen some of these levees compromised in the past, and were more than ready to try something different. Approximately seven miles of federal levees were setback from the Missouri River after the 2011 flood event. High flows during subsequent years have sup-ported our rationale for the levee setbacks, as the stages have been lower, the velocities have been lower, and the overall system appears to be more resilient to flooding.

Q: What are some Corps programs communities can take advantage of to implement nonstructural flood proofing measures before a disaster hits, and after a disaster hits.

A: USACE has an assortment of programs that can provide planning assistance or project implementation for managing flood risk. USACE’s National Nonstructural Flood Proofing Committee website, provides program de-tails under “Planning Programs Factsheets.” Several of the programs identified have the functionality of provid-ing planning assistance only, without authorization to lead to implementation of nonstructural measures. Others have the functionality of implementing nonstructural and/or structural measures, which have been determined to be economically feasible through a detailed plan formulation process. Most programs have cost-share re-quirements for the plan formulation phase, as well as the implementation phase. An additional benefit to utiliz-ing these programs is that they may be initiated pre-flood or post-flood and aren’t dependent upon a declared disaster.

Q: A lot of people aren’t aware of the ASFPM/FM Global/Corps testing and certification program. Can you ex-plain a bit about the program and how communities could be using the testing program (or at least the re-sults)?

A: The desire to prevent flood damages from occurring to buildings and facilities requires products that are suit-able and reliable for use during a flood. ASFPM, in partnership with FM Approvals and the US Army Corps of En-gineers’ NFPC, have initiated implementation of a national program of testing and certifying temporary flood barrier products used for flood proofing and flood fighting. This program currently tests barrier products for temporary flood barriers and closure devices. While the purpose of the program is to provide an unbiased pro-cess of evaluating flood barrier products, a program objective is to raise awareness of products that have achieved certification so that local, state and federal officials may consider these products when developing emergency action plans. Evaluation is accomplished by standardized testing of the products against water relat-ed and material forces in a laboratory setting and periodic inspection of the manufacturing process for product consistency. Upon products meeting the consistency of manufacturing criteria and meeting the established standards for the material and water testing, certification becomes available to the product. Since the testing is conducted in a controlled laboratory setting, not all natural forces and potential impacts can be tested. Product certification reflects, in terms of flood proofing, the suitability and performance of the product based on the product deployment, the durability and reliability of the product, as well as the product’s consistency. Brian MacDonald (FM Approvals) and Alan Lulloff (ASFPM) have provided exemplary leadership on the advancement of this program. This website provides additional information of the national testing and certification program, and a list of certified products.

Q: Larry also said you, or the Corps in general, can offer “technical assistance” for small communities that don’t have a lot of money, or have small staff, no floodplain maps, etc. So what kinds of “technical assistance” is there, and how do communities go about applying?

A: There are several excellent USACE programs that have been established to provide technical assistance to communities, such as the Flood Plain Management Services Program, Planning Assistance to States Program, and the Silver Jackets Program. All three programs address flood risk, but may have subtle differences from one program to another. It would be my recommendation that rather than a community identifying which program should be considered for their particular conditions, that the community contact its USACE district through this website in order for the appropriate district personnel to determine which program meets the community’s needs.

Q: Is there anything I did not ask that you’d really like our members to know about?

A: Flood risk is a significant threat to too many communities across the United States. The risks exist for coastal areas and riverine areas alike. At a cost of approximately $10 billion annually in flood damages, this natural haz-ard affects almost all of us directly or indirectly. We must continue to identify flood risk, communicate flood risk, and leverage resources and tools to mitigate flood risk. Flood risk management truly is a shared responsibility and the current limitations to funding and resources requires each of us to be more collaborative in our partner-ships and innovative in our efforts to eliminate flood risk.