Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) due to escalating costs to taxpayers for flood disaster relief. The NFIP is based on the agreement that if a community practices sound floodplain management, the Federal Government will make flood insurance available to residents in that community. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps include the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), which is the area that has a one percent or greater chance of flooding in any given year — also known as the 100-year floodplain. Development may take place within the SFHA if it complies with local floodplain ordinances that meet NFIP criteria.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps flood hazards in a community or county, two products are produced — a flood insurance study (FIS) report and a flood insurance rate map (FIRM).
An FIS is a narrative report of the community’s flood hazards that contains prior flooding information, descriptions of the flooding sources, information on flood protection measures, and a description of the hydrologic and hydraulic methods used in the study.
A FIRM illustrates the extent of flood hazards in a community by depicting flood risk zones and the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and is used with the FIS report to determine the floodplain development regulations that apply in each flood risk zone and who must buy flood insurance. FIRMs also depict other information including base (one percent annual chance) flood elevations (BFEs) or flood depths, floodways, and common physical features, such as roads.
Some communities within Pennsylvania are now being shown a single set of countywide flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs). The most significant change is that the new maps have been prepared with updated base mapping and topography, which will improve the accuracy of floodplain determinations. For most of the state, these are two (2) foot contours based on LiDAR (light detection and ranging) imagery. With this update, a digital flood insurance rate map (DFIRM) was produced that will be compatible with GIS (Geographic Information Systems). The improvements in spatial accuracy provided by the new base map and the availability of digital floodplain information should greatly enhance the ability to use the maps for planning, permitting, and insurance applications.
All flood elevations shown in this Flood Insurance Study are now referenced to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88). To perform this conversion, effective elevation values from the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) were adjusted downward by approximately one foot statewide.
You can locate a building or a lot by consulting the flood insurance rate map (FIRM) or by contacting the floodplain administrator for your community. For help interpreting a FIRM, telephone the FEMA Map Assistance Center (FMAC) at 1.877.FEMA MAP (1.877.336.2627). To view the flood maps for a residence or community in Pennsylvania, use our Flood Risk Determination Tool.
Challenges received during the appeal period that do not address proposed base flood elevations (BFEs) are considered “protests.” Protests include, but are not limited to:
- challenges of floodplain boundary delineations based on more detailed topographic data;
- challenges of proposed regulatory floodway boundaries based on better modeling;
- requests that a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F), or LOMR be incorporated;
- base map errors; and
Appeals and protests must be supported by scientific or technical data and provide proof of error sufficient data to make revisions. Certification of data by a Registered Professional Engineer or Licensed Land Surveyor may be required.
Some flood studies result in new or revised base flood elevations (BFEs). During the 90-day appeal period, community officials and others may object to the accuracy of the proposed BFEs. According to federal regulations, “The sole basis of appeal…shall be the possession of knowledge or information indicating that the elevations proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are scientifically or technically incorrect.” (44 CFR Ch. 1 §67.5 through §67.9)
Communities should coordinate with the FEMA Philadelphia office before submitting an appeal:
847 South Pickett Street
Alexandria, VA 22304-4605
Attn: LOMA Manager
If you have any questions regarding the forms, please direct them to the FEMA Map Information exchange at 877.336.2627. Please note that some types of requests may not be submitted online.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will issue a Letter of Final Determination (LFD) and then provide the community with six months to adopt up-to-date floodplain management ordinances. If the floodplain ordinances in effect are satisfactory, they can be submitted in their current form. If ordinances need to be updated, communities should seek assistance from their State National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Coordinator or the FEMA office in Philadelphia:
615 Chestnut Street, 6th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
After the six-month compliance period, the new flood insurance study (FIS) and flood insurance map (FIRM) will become effective.
The new map will not affect continuing insurance policies for a structure built in compliance with local floodplain management regulations and the flood map in effect at the time of construction. However, should the structure be substantially improved or damaged (where damages or improvements reach 50 percent or more of the pre-damage market value) the entire structure will need to be brought into compliance with the active floodplain requirements and base flood elevation (BFE) at the time of repair.
Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the most accurate flood hazard information available, the source maps used to prepare the flood rate insurance map (FIRM) may have scale or topographic limitations. This might cause small areas that are at or above the base flood elevation (BFE) inadvertently to be shown within Special Flood Hazard Area (SPHA) boundaries. For these situations, FEMA established the Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) process to remove such structures from the SPFHA.
To obtain a letter of LOMA, the requester must complete a LOMA application form, which is available on FEMA’s website. For a LOMA to be issued removing a structure from the Special Flood Hazard Area, federal regulations require that lowest adjacent grade be at or above the base flood elevation (BFE). There is no fee for FEMA’s review of the LOMA request, but the requester of a LOMA must provide all the information needed for a review. Elevation information certified by a licensed surveyor is often required if an elevation certificate is not available.
When a new flood rate insurance map (FIRM) becomes effective, it automatically supersedes previously issued letters of amendments (LOMAs), letters of map revision (LOMRs), and other map changes that have been issued for structures and properties on the revised FIRM panels. Recognizing that some map changes may still be valid even though the flood hazard information on the flood insurance rate map (FIRM) has been updated, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has established a process for revalidating such map changes.
A policy may be purchased from any licensed property insurance agent or broker who is in good standing in the state in which the agent is licensed or through any agent representing a Write Your Own (WYO) company. Call 1.800.720.1093 or visit the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) website to find a flood insurance agent near you.
Several factors are used to determine flood insurance premiums, including the amount of coverage purchased, the deductible, location, age, occupancy, and type of building. For newer buildings in floodplains, the elevation of the lowest adjacent grade (the lowest ground touching the structure), or lowest floor relative to the base flood elevation (BFE) will also be used to rate the policy.
NFIP Community Rating System (CRS)
One way to potentially reduce flood insurance premium rates for policyholders is to participate in the Community Rating System (CRS). The National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) CRS recognizes community efforts that exceed the minimum NFIP standards by reducing flood insurance premiums for the community’s property owners. The CRS is similar to — but separate from — the private insurance industry’s programs that grade communities on the effectiveness of their fire suppression and building code enforcement.
CRS discounts on flood insurance premiums range from 5 percent up to 45 percent. Those discounts provide an incentive for new flood protection activities that can help save lives and property in the event of a flood. To participate in the CRS, your community can choose to undertake some or all of the 19 public information and floodplain management activities described in the CRS Coordinator’s Manual.