It is a tool used to determine the different flooding risks in a community. The map designates special flood hazard areas that are subject to inundation by the base flood (1% annual chance). Local floodplain administrators, insurance agents, lenders, and property owners use the flood zones illustrated on flood maps.
A FIRM is a flood map created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for floodplain management, mitigation, and insurance purposes. Digital versions of these maps are called DFIRMs.
A FIRM will generally show:
• Roads and map land marks
• a community’s base flood elevations
• flood zones
• floodplain boundaries
As a property owner, you can use a FIRM to get a reliable indication of what flood zone you’re in. However, maps are constantly being updated due to changes in geography, construction and mitigation activities, and meteorological events. Therefore, for a truly accurate determination, contact your insurance agent, insurer, or your community floodplain manager.
The process includes obtaining new topographic data, base imagery, political boundaries, transportation lines and flood studies. Digital technology allows these individual elements to be combined into a Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM) that clearly shows the boundaries of the flood zones.
The preliminary DFIRM and Flood Insurance Study will be issued to community officials in the impacted communities as the county maps are completed. They may be viewed in a central location within each community.
Many of the flood maps in Alabama were outdated due to man-made and natural changes over time and did not reflect the latest flood risks for Communities. A second phase national effort, called RISK MAP will follow the initial flood map update effort called Flood Map Modernization. RISK MAP will produce more accurate flood hazard data that increases public awareness and leads to mitigation actions that reduce risk to life and property. This will be accomplished by accurately identifying, assessing, communicating, planning, and mitigating flood related risks.
The President’s budget included funding to update flood maps across the entire United States. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) insurance policy holders do not finance the map modernization effort.
The special flood hazard areas are determined by analysis of historical hydrologic data, community input, topographic surveys, hydrologic analysis, and hydraulic analysis. The Flood Insurance Study (FIS) specifically describes the methods for determination for each community.
You may view physical copies of the current effective flood map by contacting your community’s floodplain administrator or the mayor of your community. The community maps are located at the community map repository.
You may view and obtain flood maps on the FEMA Map Service Center web site at https://msc.fema.gov. You may also order paper copies of the current effective flood maps and flood insurance study by calling the FEMA Map Information eXchange (FMIX), toll free, at 1-877-FEMA MAP (1-877-336-2627).
The National Insurance Reform Act of 1994 mandates the purchase of flood insurance as a condition of federally related financial assistance for development in flood hazard areas (A, AE, AO, AH, numbered A, V, and VE). Lending institutions may require flood insurance for some areas located outside of the special flood hazard area.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Status Book provides a quick and easy way to see the latest current effective date for your community’s flood map.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has several methods of changing a map depending on the nature of the change requested. A physical map revision is an official republication of the community’s flood maps. Several types of letters of map change (LOMC) can also make changes to the communities flood maps. A letter of map revision based on fill (LOMR-F) is used when a structure or parcel is elevated on fill above the base flood elevation. A letter of map amendment (LOMA) is used when a property owner believes the property is incorrectly included in the special flood hazard area. A letter of map revision (LOMR) is used to change flood zones, floodways, base flood elevations, and planimetric features.
A simple letter of map amendment (LOMA) for a single structure can generally be issued in four weeks. Map changes involving multiple lots or structures can require up to eight weeks. Letters of map revision (LOMR) which requires a change in the base flood elevation or the floodway take approximately 90 days to process. Complex physical map changes may take over a year to process.
ADECA’s Office of Water Resources manages the flood-mapping program. The time frame for the process of developing an updated community map is approximately three years. There are several stages to the process including data acquisition, surveying, engineering studies, map production, numerous quality reviews and community meetings.
The letter designations describe different risk determinations based on the available scientific studies of the area. For example, an AE zone will be inundated by the 100 year flood (1% annual chance) as determined by a detailed study. For AE zones the base flood elevation (BFE) is provided. Generally speaking A zones refer to inland flood zones and V zones refer to coastal flood zones with wave action. For detailed information on all of the flood zones, review the training modules on the educational resources portion of this website.
The Flood Insurance Study (also known as Flood Elevation Study) means an examination, evaluation, and determination of flood hazards and, if appropriate, corresponding water surface elevations, or an examination, evaluation and determination of mudslide (i.e., mudflow) and/or flood-related erosion hazards.
Yes, coastal flood zones factor in increased flooding hazard caused by wave action. These flood zones are designated as VE zones with the V standing for “velocity.” Insurance premium amounts are usually higher in the VE zones than in riverine flooding areas.
National Flood Insurance Program
Floodplain management reduces flood losses and protects the naturally beneficial functions of floodplains. The concept is centered on smart development and the wise use of floodplains. Unchecked development in these dynamic areas increases flood risks, degrades water quality, and threatens human life.
The Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) is the land in the flood plain within a community subject to a 1% or greater chance of flooding in any given year. After detailed ratemaking has been completed in preparation for publication of the flood insurance rate map, Zone A usually is refined into Zones A, AO, AH, AE or VE.
It is the flood having a 1% chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. It is sometimes referred to as the 100-year flood. The base flood is used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as the basis for community regulations, mapping, and insurance purposes.
Your local floodplain administrator maintains Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) that visually depict the special flood hazard area (1% or greater annual chance of flooding). These areas are designated as zones A, AO, AH, AE or VE.
Flood insurance under the NFIP is not available within that community. Furthermore, federal officers or agencies are prohibited from approving any form of financial assistance for acquisition or construction purposes in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). For example, this would prohibit loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or secured by the Rural Housing Services. Also, if a presidentially declared disaster occurs as a result of flooding in a non-participating community, no Federal financial assistance can be provided for the permanent repair or reconstruction of insurable buildings in SFHAs.
When the community chooses to participate in the NFIP, it must adopt and enforce minimum floodplain management standards for participation. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works closely with State and local officials to identify flood hazard areas and flood risks. The floodplain management requirements within the SFHA are designed to prevent new development from increasing the flood threat and to protect new and existing buildings from anticipated flood events. When a community chooses to participate in the NFIP, it must require permits for all development in the SFHA and ensure that construction materials and methods used will minimize future flood damage. Permit files must contain documentation to substantiate how buildings were actually constructed. In return, the Federal Government makes flood insurance available for almost every building and its contents within the community. Communities must ensure that their adopted floodplain management ordinance and enforcement procedures meet program requirements. Local regulations must be updated when additional data is provided by FEMA or when Federal or State standards are revised.
Flood insurance is required for homes that are located in the special flood hazard areas (1% or greater annual chance of flooding) and that are financed by a federally backed loan.
Many factors determine the premiums. Cost is based on the amount of insurance purchased, the characteristics of the structure, and the flood zone depicted on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). One of the main characteristics of the structure that determines the cost is the elevation of the lowest floor relative to the predicted elevation of the base flood (1% annual chance). This elevation is called the base flood elevation (BFE). The BFE can be found on the FIRM and in the Flood Insurance Study (FIS).
Yes, you can purchase flood insurance through the NFIP if you live in a community that participates in the program. If you live outside of the special flood hazard area, your premiums will most likely be lower. You may qualify for a preferred risk policy (lower cost) if your home has not received previous flood insurance claims or disaster assistance.
The floodway is the channel of a stream plus any adjacent floodplain areas that must be kept free of encroachment so that the 1-percent annual flood can be carried without substantial increases in flood heights.
Freeboard means a factor of safety usually expressed in feet above a flood level for purposes of floodplain management. “Freeboard” tends to compensate for the many unknown factors that could contribute to flood heights greater than the height calculated for a selected size flood and floodway conditions, such as wave action, bridge openings, and the hydrological effect of urbanization of the watershed.
If you have federally backed financing for the property and you do not already have flood insurance, your lender may contact you once the new map takes effect and require that you purchase flood insurance. If you do not purchase the insurance after being informed that flood insurance is required, the lender can force place the insurance and charge you for the cost of it.
If you see that your structure will be included in the new special flood hazard area of the new map, you might consider purchasing flood insurance prior to the effective date of the new map. If you do, you will be grandfathered in and you can maintain the flood insurance coverage at the current premium level. Remember, you have to wait 30 days before the insurance is effective.
If you have federally related financing for the property in question, you will no longer have a federal requirement to purchase flood insurance when the new maps take effect. However, lenders retain the prerogative to require flood insurance for property that is not in a floodplain. If you wish to continue coverage once the new maps take effect, you may be eligible for preferred risk rates based on your property being outside the special flood hazard area.
If you can show that your house was built in compliance with the local floodplain ordinance and the flood map in effect at the time of construction, the basis for rating your policy will not change and your premium will be the same. If you cannot show that your house was built in compliance at the time of construction, your policy will be re-rated using the new flood map, which may raise your premium. However, if you can show that your home has been continuously insured since before the map change, your premium will not be affected. If you do not have Federal or federally related financing, you are not required by Federal regulations to have flood insurance, although it is available to you.
Contact your insurance agent to ensure that the policy is re-rated when the new map officially takes effect. The lower flood elevation may result in a lower premium.
If you can show that your house was built in compliance with the local floodplain ordinance and the flood map in effect at the time of construction, the basis for rating your policy does not change and your premium will be the same when the new map officially takes effect. If you cannot show that your house was built in compliance at the time of construction, your policy will be re-rated when the new map takes effect using the new flood zone designation and flood elevations, which may raise your premium. However, if you can show that your home has been continuously insured since before the map change, your premium will not be affected.
Contact your insurance agent to ensure the policy is re-rated when the new map officially takes effect. The change to a Zone AE designation will likely lower your premium.
Any house that can be shown to have been built in compliance with the local floodplain ordinance and the flood map at the time of construction will continue to be considered compliant, even if the new maps will show an increase in flood elevation or a change to a more restrictive zone designation. However, should your house be substantially damaged (damage is 50% or more of the pre-damage market value) and you wish to repair it, you will be required to bring the entire structure into compliance with the zone designation and flood elevations in effect at the time the repairs take place. If the structure is less than substantially damaged, you do not need to refer to the flood map when repairing damages. There may be more stringent local requirements that take precedence over those stated here. Regardless of whether your building is substantially damaged, you will likely need a development permit to make repairs and need to contact your local building official.
If the value of the addition of improvement to the house is less than 50% of the market value of the existing structure, you need only make sure that the improvement meets or exceeds the standards that were used in constructing the existing structure (assuming the existing structure was built in compliance at the time it was constructed). Additions or other improvements valued at 50% or more of the market value of the existing structure are considered substantial improvements. In such cases, the entire structure must be brought into compliance with the elevations on the map in effect at the time the improvement begins.
Under certain circumstances, only the addition needs to be elevated to the flood elevations shown on that map. There may be more stringent local requirements that take precedence over those stated here. Regardless of whether your building is substantially improved, you will likely need a development permit to make the improvement and need to contact your local building official.
Under federal law, the purchase of flood insurance is mandatory for all federal or federally related financial assistance for the acquisition and/or construction of buildings in high-risk flood areas (Special Flood Hazard Areas or SFHAs).
If the property is not in a high-risk area, but instead in a moderate-to-low risk area, federal law does not require flood insurance; however, a lender can still require it. It is also recommended since historically about one-in-four flood claims come from these moderate-to-low risk areas. Note that if during the life of the loan the maps are revised and the property is now in the high-risk area, your lender will notify you that you must purchase flood insurance.
Flooding occurs in moderate-to-low risk areas as well as in high-risk areas. Poor drainage systems, rapid accumulation of rainfall, snowmelt, and broken water mains can all result in flood. Structures located in high-risk flood areas have a significant chance (26 percent) of suffering flood damage during the term of a 30-year mortgage. A home mapped in a high-risk area is 2 1/2 times more likely to suffer damage from a flood than a fire in the lifetime of a typical mortgage! For these reasons, flood insurance is required by law for buildings in high-risk flood areas as a condition of receiving a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender.
Please contact your insurance agent for information about how to purchase flood insurance. If you are having difficulty finding an insurance agent who sells flood insurance, please visit www.floodsmart.gov and, on the left hand side of page under Resources, select the Agent Locator to find a flood insurance agent within your area. You can also call the FloodSmart Agent Referral Call Center at 1-888-379-9531.
FEMA publishes maps indicating a community’s flood hazard areas and the degree of risk in those areas. Flood insurance maps usually are on file in a local repository in the community, such as the planning and zoning or engineering offices in the town hall or the county building. For more information about ordering maps, please visit the FEMA Map Assistance Center. There is a minimal charge for maps for most users.
Yes. It’s a good idea to buy flood insurance even if you live in a moderate-to-low risk area. About 25 percent of all flood insurance claims come from areas with low-to-moderate flood risk. You may qualify for the Preferred Risk Policy (a lower-cost flood insurance policy) that provides contents coverage beginning at $39 per year and building plus contents coverage beginning at $119 a year.
Only one building and its contents can be insured on each Flood Insurance policy.
Yes, providing that, if confined to your property, the flood water covers at least two acres. A general condition of flood also exists if two properties are affected, one of which is yours.
Not necessarily. Federal disaster assistance typically comes in the form of a low interest loan to help cover flood damage, not compensation for your losses. Even then, those loans are only available if the President formally declares a disaster and must be repaid along with any existing mortgage.
If you live in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you are eligible to purchase flood insurance. Nearly 21,000 communities participate and it’s likely that yours is one of them.
No. Flood damage is not typically covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy.
Yes. If you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and have received disaster assistance in the form of a federal grant or loan, you must cover the building for flood insurance for as long as you own it. Should you sell the building, you are required to inform the new owner of the necessity to purchase and maintain flood insurance. Failure to carry flood insurance could result in the denial of future federal disaster assistance.
When FEMA releases a preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS) report for a community, caution must be exercised in using this data. For insurance purposes, preliminary FIRMs and FIS reports cannot be used to make official flood determinations. The currently effective FIRM is the only official document for this purpose.
However, for regulatory purposes, preliminary FIRMs and FIS reports may be used by the community. Local regulations usually allow for the use of the best available data, and in most instances, the data provided on the preliminary FIRMs is much better than the older data on the currently effective FIRMs. The use of preliminary maps as “best available data” is only allowable when the preliminary data are more conservative than the effective data; i.e. the elevations of the base (1-percent-annual-chance) flood are higher or the SFHA is more extensive. Please contact your community’s floodplain administrator to determine whether preliminary data is being used by your community and whether it has any impact on construction or other use of your property.
Homeowners, community officials, and others who have adequate scientific and/or technical data may submit those data (including the required MT-2 application forms) to FEMA at any time to support a request for a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) to revise the flood hazard information shown on the effective FIRM. The LOMR has the effect of revising the FIRM without physically revising and reprinting the affected FIRM panel(s). LOMRs are generally issued within 90 days of the date all required data, forms, and processing fees are received. All requests for map revisions, including LOMRs must be submitted through the CEO of the community, because it is the community that must adopt any changes to the FIRM.
Engineers, Surveyors, and Architects
Methods for estimating or developing BFE data in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) determined by approximate-study methods are described in a FEMA guidance document entitled The Zone A Manual: Managing Floodplain Development in Approximate Zone A Areas.
The backup and supporting data used to develop the currently effective FIS report and Flood Insurance Rate Map are available from the FEMA Project Library. Unless you are exempt from paying such fees, a fee is charged for most requests. All requests for FIS backup data must be made in writing and should be sent to the following address for processing:
FEMA Project Library
847 S. Pickett Street
Alexandria, VA 22304
To be removed from the SFHA shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), a structure must be on land that is not subject to flooding by the base (1 percent annual chance) flood. If a structure is located on natural ground that is higher than the Base (1 percent annual chance) Flood Elevation (BFE) shown on the FIRM, then a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) should be requested. In support of the request, a surveyor must determine the elevation of the lowest ground next to the structure. If the ground is higher than the BFE, then FEMA will issue a LOMA to remove the structure from the SFHA.
If the structure was built on fill that was placed after the FIRM was prepared, a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F) should be requested. If the filled ground is higher than the BFE, then FEMA may issue a LOMR-F to remove the structure from the SFHA. Information on the data submittal requirements for a LOMR-F is provided in the MT-1 application forms package.
If physical changes to the floodplain have changed the flood hazard information shown on the effective FIRM, a revision must be requested. As soon as practicable, but not later than six months after the date such information becomes available, a community must notify FEMA of the changes by submitting technical or scientific data in accordance with 44 CFR 65.3. The request must be accompanied by the appropriate portions of the MT-2 application forms package, titled Revisions to National Flood Insurance Program Maps (FEMA Form 81-89 Series), and the required supporting information.
Elevation Certificates must be prepared and certified by a Licensed Land Surveyor, Registered Professional Engineer, or architect who is authorized by Commonwealth, State, or local law to certify elevation information. Community officials who are authorized by local law or ordinance to provide floodplain management information may also sign the certificate. Elevations must be certified by a Registered Professional Engineer or Licensed Land Surveyor if the Elevation Certificate is intended to support an application for a Letter of Map Amendment or a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill.
Insurers and Lenders
In some cases, a lender determines that a property is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) shown on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) but the property owner disagrees with that determination. Property owners in this situation have a couple of options. Depending on the specific circumstances, you may apply for a Letter of Determination Review (LODR), a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), or a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F).
Upon receiving a completed MT-EZ (for LOMAs) or MT-1 (for LOMR-Fs) application, FEMA reviews property-specific information, and makes a final flood zone determination for the property. Once an application and all necessary data are received, the determination is normally issued within 30 – 60 days.
Within 45 days following the date your lender notified you that your property is in the SFHA shown on the FIRM for your community, you and your lender may jointly request that FEMA review your lender’s determination; FEMA’s response to such requests is a LODR. In response to such requests, FEMA reviews the same information your lender used to determine that your structure was located in an SFHA. The elevation of the structure or property relative to the elevation of the 1-percent-annual-chance flood is not considered for a LODR. FEMA only considers the location of the structure relative to the SFHA boundary shown on the FIRM. FEMA reviews this information and issues its finding of whether the structure is located in the SFHA according to the currently effective FIRM. While this determination cannot consider the elevation of your structure or property, it can be useful if you feel the lender’s interpretation of the FIRM is incorrect.
Local Floodplain Managers
A signed community acknowledgement of fill placement form provides written assurance by the participating community that they have complied with the appropriate minimum floodplain management requirements; that is, any existing or proposed structures within the area to be removed from the Special Flood Hazard Area are (or will be) reasonably safe from flooding as required under the current minimum floodplain management regulations under Subparagraph 60.3(a)(3) of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulations.
A CLOMR is FEMA’s comment on a proposed project that would, upon construction, affect the hydrologic or hydraulic characteristics of a flooding source and thus result in the modification of the existing regulatory floodway, the effective Base Flood Elevations (BFEs), or the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). The letter does not revise an effective National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) map. It indicates whether the project, if built as proposed, would be recognized by FEMA. Building permits cannot be issued based on a CLOMR, because a CLOMR does not change the NFIP map.
NFIP regulations do not require conditional approval for all projects in the regulatory floodway or SFHA. A CLOMR is required only for those projects that will result in an increase in the base flood water-surface elevation (WSEL) of greater than 1.00 foot for streams with BFEs specified but no regulatory floodway designated, or any base flood WSEL increase from proposed construction within a regulatory floodway.
Once a project has been completed, the community must request a revision to the Flood Insurance Rate Map to reflect the project. “As-built” certification and other data must be submitted to support the revision request. The request should be accompanied by the appropriate portions of the MT-2 application/certification forms package, entitled Revisions to National Flood Insurance Program Maps (FEMA Form 81-89 Series), and the required supporting information.
Letters of Map Change
A LOMC is a letter which reflects an official revision to an effective National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) map. LOMCs are issued in place of the physical revision and republication of the effective map.
CLOMA – A Conditional Letter of Map Amendment (CLOMA) is FEMA’s comment on whether a proposed project would be excluded from the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) shown on the effective National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) map.
CLOMR – A Conditional Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR) is FEMA’s comment on a proposed project that would affect the hydrologic and/or hydraulic characteristics of a flooding source and thus result in the modification of the existing regulatory floodway or effective Base Flood Elevations (BFE).
CLOMR-F – A Conditional Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (CLOMR-F) is FEMA’s comment on whether a proposed project involving the placement of fill would exclude an area from the SFHA shown on the NFIP map.
LOMA – A Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) is an official amendment, by letter, to an effective NFIP map. A LOMA establishes a property’s location in relation to the SFHA.
LOMR – A Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) is an official revision, by letter, to an effective NFIP map. A LOMR may change flood insurance risk zones, floodplain and/or floodway boundary delineations, planimetric features, and/or BFE.
LOMR-F – A Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F) is an official revision, by letter, to an effective NFIP map. A LOMR-F provides FEMA’s determination concerning whether a structure or parcel has been elevated on fill above the BFE and excluded from the SFHA.
Upon the receipt of all required data to support a LOMA or LOMR-F, FEMA issues a determination within 60 days. Upon the receipt of all required data to support a Letter of Map Revision, FEMA issues a determination within 90 days.