When Hurricane Matthew hit the Georgia coast last year, it left 18 inches of standing water in the garage of Deb Baber’s Tybee Island home. And it reaffirmed the decision she made two years ago to elevate her house, protecting her property from flood damage and drastically reducing her insurance premium.

“It wasn’t a cheap decision, but after I lifted the house I saw my flood insurance rate drop from $2,500 to $387 a year. That’s pretty good considering I live four houses from the water,” says Baber.

Baber’s rate dropped not just because she elevated her house, but because the city of Tybee Island is a member of the Community Rating System (CRS), a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program that reduces flood insurance premiums in communities that take action to exceed minimum floodplain management standards. The University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant assisted Tybee Island, as well as other coastal communities, in joining the CRS program.

Property owners in high-risk areas, or special flood hazard areas, have watched their rates skyrocket due to changes to the National Flood Insurance Program. Under the CRS, communities earn credit for floodplain management activities, such as following guideline for mapping and regulations, reducing flood damage and providing information to the public, including warnings about potential flooding and responses to flooding events.

On Tybee Island, City Manager Diane Schleicher has managed several projects designed to lower the community’s CRS score.

“We put over $1 million into drainage improvements to prevent the stormwater system from filling with sea water at high tide before a rain. Residents are now required to build at least one foot above base flood elevation. We’re participating in the CRS Users Group and informing residents of their flood risks,” Schleicher said. “All of this to better prepare our community for coastal hazards and reduce the financial burden of living in a high-risk area.”

Since joining the CRS program in 2009, Tybee Island has helped its residents save $3 million on flood insurance. In Savannah, property owners have saved $593,000.

Madeline Russell, a specialist with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, has seen an improvement in all of Georgia’s coastal counties and cities participating in CRS.

“As communities gain points and continue to work together, they understand the program more and can reach for more points,” Russell said. “We have become an integral part of this process, learning beside the communities and networking our resources to provide needed support to continue to improve.”