Finding Flood Map Information
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publishes Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for all communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). A FIRM is a community’s official map on which FEMA has delineated both the Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) and the premium risk zones applicable to the community.
Private citizens, insurance agents, and brokers use FIRMs to locate properties and buildings to determine their flood risk and whether flood insurance is required or recommended. Community officials use FIRMs to administer floodplain management regulations and to mitigate flood damage. Lending institutions and Federal agencies use FIRMs to locate properties and buildings in relation to mapped flood hazards, and to determine whether flood insurance is required when making loans or providing grants following a disaster for the purchase or construction of a building.
As an insurance agent, you may have support from your flood insurance company or its vender; or if you sell “direct,” from the NFIP Servicing Agent. This article provides some helpful tips about flood mapping, including how to find local maps, a little about other maps, changes to local maps, and how to find updated maps and historic maps. Finally, knowing some ways to navigate the FEMA.gov pages, the FEMA Map Service Center (MSC) site, and other map-related sites can help you understand the broader picture when it comes to flood insurance.
FEMA Letters of Map Change
If your client believes that the land where his or her building is located is elevated equal to or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), he or she may want to look into getting a Letter of Map Change (LOMC). The BFE is the computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood. BFEs are shown on FIRMs. Communities use BFEs to meet regulatory requirements, which include determining the first floor elevation or floodproofing elevation of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure’s elevation plays a large part in determining the flood insurance premium. An LOMC is an official letter provided by FEMA that amends or revises the FIRM and confirms that the structure is officially excluded from the high-risk area (also termed the Special Flood Hazard Area [SFHA]). There are several different LOMCs, including the following.
A Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) is an amendment to the currently effective FIRM, which establishes that a property or structure is not located in an SFHA based on a comparison of the lowest lot/structure elevation to the BFE shown on the FIRM. The lot or structure’s elevation must be natural grade and not altered by fill. A LOMA is issued only by FEMA. There is no processing fee for a LOMA.
A Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) is an official revision to the currently effective FIRM. It is issued by FEMA and changes BFEs, flood zone delineations, and/or risk premium zones. LOMRs generally involve engineering review of new hydrology and hydraulic information, as well as topography (elevation) data. LOMRs are also issued for individual properties or structures when fill is placed to change the natural ground elevation but not the BFE. These LOMRs are called Letters of Map Revision based on Fill (LOMR-F). LOMRs are issued only by FEMA and involve a processing fee. For a listing of current fees, consult FEMA’s Flood Hazard Mapping website at http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/fhm/frm_fees.shtm.
In addition to LOMCs, FEMA issues Letters of Determination Review (LODRs). While not an LOMC, a LODR is FEMA’s ruling on the determination made by a lender or third party that a borrower’s building is in an SFHA. A LODR deals only with the location of a building relative to the SFHA boundary shown on the FIRM. This letter is time-specific (it must be requested within 45 days from the date of the notice to the borrower requiring flood insurance) and must be requested by the lender and the property owner. There is a processing fee for LODRs.
For additional information about LOMCs or answers to other questions you may have, consult the Frequently Asked Questions page of FEMA’s website, accessible at.
How do you find local FIRMs?
There are several ways to find a local FIRM. If you want to find it electronically, the first step is to go to the FEMA Map Service Center (MSC) site.
Finding FIRMs with an address is easy. Start by entering your full address in the search box called Product Search by…, which is located in the upper left-hand side of the site. When complete, select the Search by Street Address button. The resultant page either will identify the FIRM on which your address is located or will return no results. If no results are returned, there may not be a FIRM produced on which that address is located and the address is too new to be identified by the site’s software. If the resultant page identifies a FIRM, choose the magnifying glass to view the map. If there are LOMCs associated with that area, you will see a notation (i.e., a “+” sign) to link to the LOMC.
You can search for all the local maps by using the “Product Catalogue” link on the red menu bar. On the main product page, you can link to map-related products offered at the MSC site, including FIRMs and Flood Hazard Boundary Maps (FHBMs). Though both identify the high-risk SFHAs, the FHBM is an older product than the FIRM. Under this topic, you can access the effective FIRM, future FIRMs (this category includes maps that will become effective in the next six months or less), and historic FIRMs (i.e., those superseded by a newer FIRM). Once you choose the map product you need, such as the historic map for your client to see if he or she may be able to grandfather to a lower-risk designation, you will work your way down from:
- Step one – choose the state.
- Step two – choose the county.
- Step three – choose the community.
- Step four – choose links to the current maps for that community and, if there are LOMCs associated with that area, you will see a notation to link to the LOMC (i.e., a “+” sign).
If you need assistance with the map, you can talk to a map specialist at FEMA’s Map Information eXchange (FMIX) at 1-877-336-2627. Some newer maps may have the BFEs on them, but not all do, especially if your area has an older map. Your agent may be able to help or you can contact the community floodplain coordinator. Ask at the local building code office; the staff there should be able to direct you from there.
Some maps are very modern, using a satellite image overlaid with road map imagery; and if there is an SFHA, it will be shown in blue with a full legend of symbols on the right. You can make a “FIRMette” – a small area map – for your client to see his or her immediate neighborhood. For more information about locating FIRMs or creating a FIRMette, consult the MSC website and select the FIRMette Tutorial located at the bottom of the right-hand side of the site.
Compendium of Flood Map Changes
The Compendium of Flood Map Changes is a list of all changes made to NFIP maps by FEMA, including Physical Map Revisions, LOMRs, LOMR-Fs, and LOMAs during a given six-month period. The compendium is updated twice each year (for the periods of January 1 through June 30 and July 1 through December 31) and is published as a notice in the Federal Register.
The current and previous compendiums may be viewed or downloaded from FEMA’s website. Available maps go back to 1994, and can also be found at the FEMA site.
You may be interested in learning if a community is going to be receiving new FIRMs in the immediate future (i.e., six months or less). There are two ways to find this information. First, you can consult the Product Availability Page located on the MSC’s website. You can also consult the Product Catalog; by following the instructions provided in the How do you find the local FIRMs? section above.
Remember: You can always contact your community building code and zoning office, or the local floodplain manager’s office. They should be involved if there are any map changes being planned. Knowing what is planned can help you and your clients save money and have peace of mind.
For More Information:
For more information or additional mapping assistance, you can:
- Email a map specialist at FEMAMapSpecialist@riskmapcds.com.
- Call a map specialist at the FEMA Map Information eXchange, toll-free, at 1-877-FEMA MAP (1-877-336-2627).
- Chat with a map specialist, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time; go to http://msc.fema.gov and use the link in the center of the page for a live chat.
- Register to receive updates on FEMA Flood Hazard Mapping activities via email.
Links to Information:
For additional information about LOMCs or answers to other questions you may have, consult the Frequently Asked Questions page of FEMA’s website.
FEMA Compendium of Flood Map Changes
NFIP Flood Hazard Mapping
FEMA Map Service Center (MSC) site