We can't predict when the next major storm will produce the kind of massive and destructive flooding as Hurricane Sandy did last year.

But we can say with certainty that no storm will consult the federal flood-zone maps before it strikes.

That's why it's crucial that residents and municipal officials don't take the proposed maps too literally.

The latest maps downgraded vast areas that had been in the highest-risk velocity zones to regular flood zones. That may mean that residents won't have to raise their homes as high, or even at all. It could also mean lower insurance rates.

But it shouldn't mean that everyone now believes those areas are safe. The new maps are just more politically acceptable to municipalities concerned about their tax base and homeowners worried about insurance rates.

Municipal officials lobbied heavily against advisor maps released in December, arguing they could literally drive people from their homes and decimate towns. And the chance of a storm exactly like Sandy hitting again is low.

But there is no doubt that at some point there will be more storms, with more flooding. Experts warn that flooding levels like those during Sandy could become more common as rising sea levels and climate change create more frequent and intense storms.

That's why homeowners should take every opportunity now to prepare their home for the worst, and municipalities should raise standards for new construction to more than just the minimum requirements.

Some municipal officials are being proactive. West Wildwood officials are urging homeowners to put their houses on piling while there is funding available to help pay for it. Even if a storm never hits, homeowners will save on flood insurance rates.

Brigantine city Engineer Ed Stinson said officials will likely adopt an ordinance to require that all new construction, even in low-risk zones, meet higher flood standards than required by the maps.

Avalon has received one of the best flood ratings in the state - a rating that will earn residents a 25 percent discount on flood insurance - because it set building elevations a foot higher than National Flood Insurance Program requirements.

There may be some local backlash in some towns, but local officials should hold their ground. Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of Flood Plain Managers, said that in his profession, folks like to say that homes with the highest risk are those just outside the 100-year flood zone because they don't have to meet the higher building standards.

We can't change the weather, but we can prepare for it and we should. Because another storm will come.

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