Last year, Hurricane Floyd caused massive destruction and more than 50 deaths in Eastern North Carolina. Sections of highways and bridges were washed away. Homes were destroyed.

After the storm, it became clear that many of the state's flood plain maps were either inaccurate or nonexistent, and that they had failed to provide much help in either fighting or preparing for the disaster. So, to be properly organized to deal with future calamities, the state has secured a unique arrangement from the federal government to quickly develop high-tech flood plain maps.

Traditionally, flood plain maps are prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, using surveyors to physically walk the land and measure the elevations. Instead, North Carolina is using a new high- tech mapping system called LIDAR, which shoots laser pulses from planes flying overhead to chart the land. The state has become the first Cooperative Technical State under a new FEMA program, which means that the state will take primary responsibility over the mapping process.

Under FEMA's usual one-county-a-year schedule, it would take 100 years to update North Carolina's charts. Using the new technology, the entire state will be mapped in five years, finishing the flood-prone river basins in Eastern North Carolina in the first two years.

"This is head and shoulders above traditional surveying," says John Dorman, planning administrator in the Office of State Budget Planning and Management. "It's a ground-breaking new approach."

Flood plain maps are important in warning residents and determining insurance rates. They are also used in transportation planning, chemical spills and land use planning.