Almost everyone has a risk of being flooded, regardless of where they live. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 20 percent of all flood insurance claims come from areas outside of high-risk flood zones. That still means the vast majority come from high-risk areas. How can a property owner find out what his flood risk is?
FEMA considers a property to be at high risk of flood if there is at least a one-in-four chance of flooding during the life of a 30-year mortgage. Geographic areas with this risk are known as special flood hazard areas (SFHA). Federal regulations require federally regulated or insured mortgage lenders to confirm that mortgaged properties in these areas carry flood insurance.
The traditional way to determine a property’s flood risk is to locate it on a flood insurance rate map (FIRM). FEMA publishes these maps based on geographic survey data. They are the official depictions of flood hazards in a locality. FIRMs are freely available for review on Flood Map Service Center on FEMA’s web site. A property owner can view his flood risk by entering the address in the search field.
Flood maps assign each area in a community to labeled flood zones. Areas with low-to-moderate risks of flooding are assigned to zones with labels beginning with the letters B, C, X or a shaded X. SFHAs are designated with the letters A or V. These areas are shaded on the maps for easy identification.
Property owners can also search for their flood risks at FEMA’s flood insurance consumer web site, www.floodsmart.gov. By entering the address in the fields on the home page, they can quickly learn whether they face a low-to-moderate or high risk. The site offers other valuable tools, such as an estimator that can calculate how much damage a given amount of water (two inches, four inches, etc.) would cause in homes of various sizes. For example, six inches of water in a 2,000 square foot home would cause $39,150 in damage.
FEMA also offers a suite of flood risk products that go beyond the information provided in a FIRM. They include Flood Risk Maps, which show the overall picture of flood risk for a given area; Flood Risk Reports, which show community-specific flood risk information; and the Flood Risk Database, which stores all flood risk data for an area. These products are helpful for community planners, but individual property owners can also use them to get a clear idea of their flood risks.
Elevation certificates may also be on file with local governments for certain properties. This document shows the elevation of the lowest floor of a building (including the basement) compared to the base flood elevation for the area. It demonstrates community compliance with floodplain management laws and is used to set appropriate flood insurance premiums.
A flood can be every bit as catastrophic as a fire. It is worthwhile for property owners to learn their flood risk and take steps to reduce it.