The Significance of FEMA’s Floodplain Maps

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which has expired several times already in 2010.

Suffering through a third expiration period as of the end of June and awaiting a longer-term reinstatement by Congress, many homeowners have tried to determine how to keep their flood insurance. Many others are learning that once the program is reinstated, they will be forced to purchase the insurance thanks to new FEMA floodplain maps.

Just what is the significance of these maps and how do they relate to the NFIP and your need to purchase coverage?

FEMA and the Significance of Floodplain Maps

FEMA is the acronym for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency’s purpose is to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters caused naturally or by man made occurrences. Currently, it manages the NFIP (which administers flood insurance nationwide) and determines which areas are of the highest risk for flooding. It is also able to require homeowners in high-risk areas to purchase flood insurance coverage.

The way FEMA determines whether a homeowner must purchase flood insurance is by creating floodplain maps. With these maps, the government agency documents the areas that are more likely to flood than others, then determines who needs to purchase insurance based on their level of risk.

While the maps typically must be honored, they are not always set in stone. Sometimes, FEMA will update the maps after surveying areas and determining that they are not as high of a risk of flooding as believed. Alternatively, some areas, like southern California, discover that they must purchase insurance after years of going without.

Further, after some homeowners discover that they’ve been placed on a floodplain map, they fight their status to avoid paying for mandatory flood insurance. By bringing in a surveyor or floodplain expert who could determine that the home was not threatened by floods, they have been able to have their homes removed from the map.

Is Your Area Covered on a Floodplain Map?

You may be wondering if your area is covered on a floodplain map and if you are responsible for purchasing flood insurance. A great way to find out is by visiting FEMA’s Map Service Center. This page allows you to narrow down your search to the county you live in. If your county is listed in the system, you will see a map that shows the level of risk for your area.

Of course, if your area is considered high-risk then you should have already received some type of notice from FEMA explaining that you are required to purchase coverage. If you haven’t received a notice then you most likely reside in a low-risk area.

Should You Purchase Flood Insurance?

It’s good to know that just because you reside in a low-risk area doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t purchase flood insurance. Some areas can surprise you by quickly and unexpectedly flooding.

For instance, massive flooding hit 66 counties in Nebraska in the middle of June 2010, resulting in 53 of those counties requiring disaster relief. The flooding was the result of one of the wettest Mays in history for the state, as well as a 10-day period of excessive rain in June. Because no one expected so many areas to flood, many homeowners likely did not have insurance. That doesn’t mean they didn’t need it.

So should you purchase flood insurance for your home? If your area isn’t labeled high risk by FEMA’s floodplain map then the choice is up to you. But keep in mind that your home insurance policy does not cover flood damage, so if flooding does occur, you will have to pay out of pocket for repairs.

If you are interested in purchasing a policy, most private home insurance companies offer coverage via NFIP and can give you details about policy prices, what flood insurance covers, and whether Congress has reinstated the program to enable purchases.