Brad Klamer — Floodplain Manager

Read His Story

Career Path

Skills Needed

Typical Day

Career Advice

Education and Influences

Brad Klamer, CFM

Tell us a bit about your current role and your experience as a planner. Include a bit about your path to the current role.

I am currently the Assistant Floodplain Program Manager for the City of New Orleans, serving as the Coastal Zone Manager — and Community Rating System (CRS) Coordinator. I assure compliance with the City’s Floodplain Ordinance and assist homeowners with National Flood Insurance Program regulations.

I am working to improve the city’s score in the CRS to help reduce flood insurance rates for the entire community. I also work with the State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to manage coastal use permitting and wetlands mitigation within Orleans Parish.

Previously I was a Senior City Planner for the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans where my work was primarily focused on stormwater management and the development and implementation of the Green Infrastructure Plan. I was the project manager for approximately 25 unique green infrastructure projects including education and outreach projects, demonstration projects, and grant-funded water quality research projects.

I have APA to thank for my career in water.

In 2013, near the end of my Master of Urban and Regional Planning Program at University of New Orleans, I applied for and was awarded a scholarship to the APA Professional Study Tour in the Netherlands. As an urban planning student in New Orleans and having lived through Hurricane Katrina, I had studied the series of workshops put together by the Dutch Embassy and Waggonner & Ball Architects known as the “Dutch Dialogues.”

On this study tour, I saw first-hand many of the strategies that I had studied, including new techniques in resiliency planning. This experience led me directly to my position at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, specializing in environmental planning and stormwater management.

I was able to use my experience from the tour to assist in the implementation of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan and the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance for New Orleans. The networking and relationships that I made with Dutch and American planners, architects, engineers, hydrogeologists, etc. have been invaluable to me in my career.

Career Path

How do your professional planning knowledge, skills, and abilities inform your role as a floodplain manager?  You’re a planner, how did you become a floodplain manager? How do those relate?

All the knowledge I have gained through my career contributes to decisions I make now. My specialization in school was in environmental and hazard planning. After graduation, I wanted to complete this coursework by taking the Certified Floodplain Manager exam.

After working on site-specific stormwater projects for four years, I wanted to move to larger scale community and regional planning. I transitioned from our utility company to the City of New Orleans doing coastal and floodplain management. Many of the same concepts apply to both jobs as the green infrastructure projects I was working on before have a cumulative effect on the entire floodplain.

The goal now is to minimize loss and human suffering caused by flooding by utilizing many different measures including open space absorption and infiltration.

As a floodplain manager, how do you communicate flood risk to planners, and other city departments to inform land use decision making?

We have a newly adopted floodplain ordinance which has the force of law. I mainly assist with interpreting the code for city staff and community members. I also coordinate with our homeland security and hazard mitigation departments to make sure we are getting the right message out to our community about flood risk.

How do you feel your job helps the City of New Orleans increase disaster resilience?

By enforcing the floodplain ordinance we are creating a safer community and reducing financial impacts of future disasters.

Our code requires all new construction and substantial improvement to be elevated three feet above the nearest curb. Since this is required for all flood zones, not just the special flood hazard area, our regulations go above and beyond the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program requirements. The community as a whole has become more aware of the flood risks, not just from hurricanes but also from pluvial localized rain events.

As a coastal zone manager, my job is to help protect the wetlands in our parish which are the first line of defense against storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico. Any development that happens in our parish needs to file a coastal use permit, and if it is outside the levee protection system and effects estuarine wetlands, mitigation will be required.

Most of the community understands the value of the protective wetlands and willingly complies with these regulations.

Skills

Can you talk about skill sets that you have acquired along your career path and how the skills you learned as a planner come together?

My undergraduate degree is in psychology which is helpful in communicating with many different personality types in many different situations. Through the first five years in my career, I volunteered or applied for public speaking events because I knew that eventually through practice it would become more natural for me to do. I feel like project management is also a skill that comes with experience.

Typical Day

What’s a typical day like for you?

I review elevation certificates, consult with homeowners, architects, insurance agents, etc. about flood insurance and the building code. I conduct site visits with homeowners to assist in interpreting flood insurance and floodplain regulations. I visit coastal projects to assess impacts on wetlands in preparation for mitigation determinations. I have been working through the CRS manual to compile all the documentation for our community to get credit for the work we are doing, which requires coordination with many different departments and agencies.

What has been the best surprise in your career?

I am surprised and honored to see the effects of my work in schools, universities, public and privately funded projects and their lasting influences on the community.

I took chances on jobs that didn’t exist before I started working and have successfully created several beneficial community programs.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

I like the energy and atmosphere working at City Hall. There are a lot of exciting things happening in New Orleans right now with our Tricentennial celebration and new Mayor coming in. I truly enjoy helping people on an individual basis and take care to listen and address each concern.

Career Advice

What advice do you have for someone who hopes to find work similar to yours?

Choose a course of study that makes sense in the region you live. Look at your community — what needs help? What can you do to get involved? I went through Katrina first hand and witnessed the devastation. I wanted to learn from the process New Orleans went through and focus on mitigating future disasters. I studied Environmental Planning and gravitated toward coastal and urban water planning. My first job was in urban stormwater management and now I am working on larger scale coastal and community projects.

Get involved in as many networking opportunities as possible. I applied for opportunities like the APA Professional Study Tour in the Netherlands in 2013 which led to my participation in the APA Water Working Group. I participate in as much continuing education as possible including webinars and certification courses. I also volunteer for as many speaking engagements as possible at events and conferences.

As far as how to get involved in water specific planning work similar to mine, join the newly created APA Water and Planning Network on LinkedIn and explore the knowledgebase at planning.org/knowledgebase/watermanagement/.

Education

Schools and Education: BA in Psychology from Tulane University, MURP from University of New Orleans with specialization in Environmental and Hazards Planning, Certified Floodplain Manager, GIS

First planning job: Intern with the United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu – Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood GIS analysis project.

Influences: David Waggonner; Jim Schwab, FAICP; David Rouse, FAICP; Ian McHarg; Frederick Law Olmsted

What do you do outside of work that helps you be successful?

I have immersed myself in the culture of New Orleans — music, arts, food, film, etc. It is very important to understand the community where you live and work.