Code requirements, whether they involve structural integrity, fire safety or flood worthiness, are oriented toward protecting the general public, the property owner and the individual inhabitant in the event of a disaster. And, as we now know, disasters do happen.
Consider this: If an automatic fire-suppression sprinkler system had been installed in the buildings on Main Street, the fire would have been put out before it spread, damage would have been minimal, Main Street would look the same today as it did last Sunday, and this thread would not even exist.
Of course there are differences between fires and floods, the key one being that the risk of fire is spread pretty uniformly throughout a city whereas the risk of flooding varies significantly by location. So, an important part of preventing losses due to floods is to identify areas at high risk of flooding and take preventative measures within those areas.
That's exactly what the flood map attempts to do - identify areas at higher risk of flooding. By informing people in those areas that the risk of flooding is higher, steps can be taken beforehand to minimize the type of damage and disruption that would likely occur in the event of a flood. That's what the building code and floodplain management ordinances are for - making sure that those preventative measures are taken. (The trick, of course, is making sure that the high risk areas are correctly identified. And that's exactly why the City has appealed to FEMA to reconsider certain aspects of the preliminary flood map - to make sure the 100-year floodplain and the floodway are accurately identified.)
In the long run, it pays off. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent in prevention, $7 to $11 in damages are saved. That's on a national scale. On an individual property owner level, the ratio can be much, much higher. And that's just the economics. Ask anyone who's been in a disaster, and it isn't the cost of things that hurt the most. It's the loss of family heirlooms and memories.
It all goes back to a simple homespun saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Back to Main Street. The fire wouldn't have started if a simple fire extinguisher had been on hand. It wasn't. The fire wouldn't have spread if a sprinkler system had been installed. It wasn't. As a result, people lost their homes and livelihoods, dreams went up in smoke, millions of dollars of damage occurred, Miles City lost an incredible amount of history, and emergency response crews risked their lives and limbs to keep the damage from being even worse.
Apply that lesson to a flood scenario, and you can see why it's important to take appropriate and reasonable steps in the floodplain to protect life and property in advance of the disaster.