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Title News - May/June, 2007

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May/June, 2007 - Volume 85 Number 3

Flood Map Modernization Affects Everyone

Diane Littles and Bruce Bender

Congress has approved the multiyear Flood Map Modernization effort to update these maps and transform them into more reliable, easy-to-use, and readily available digital products. Using them will help you help your customers.

An effective publicity campaign is targeted, so it’s important that you direct your efforts to the right people. Now that you have your list of publications, call and ask for the name of the editor or reporter who covers real estate. If they don’t have a real estate section, ask for the name of the business editor. (With newsletters, ask for the name of the editor).
Next, call the appropriate reporter or editor to introduce yourself, or send a letter of introduction. Include information about you, how long you’ve been in business, and why you think readers will be interested in what you have to say. You can also offer to meet with them or take them to lunch to get acquainted. Ask how they prefer to receive information, via e-mail, snail mail, or fax. Be sure to give them background materials about title insurance. (For a list of available materials from ATLA, read on).
Finalize your list with names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses (the preferred method of sending and receiving publicity materials). Now you’re ready for the next step . . . . the publicity tools you’ll use.

Flooding is the number one natural disaster in the United States and has increasingly been a topic in the news headlines in recent years. While the record hurricane season of 2004 and the catastrophic season of 2005 definitely made front-page news, flooding occurs throughout the country...and throughout the year. Though hurricanes do cause flooding and their dramatic impacts make the news, floods can also be a result of slow moving storms, quickly melting snow, water backup due to inadequate or overloaded drainage systems, and dam or levee failure. Flooding is traditionally associated with the spring and summer months; however, winter storms and rains can create just as much damage. For example, from November 2005 through April 2006, federal disasters involving floods were declared in eight states west of the Mississippi River, and resulted in more than $122.8 million in flood claims being processed.

And when floods occur, homes and businesses are damaged in areas prone to high-risk flooding, as well as low-risk and moderate-risk areas. In fact, about one out of four claims filed with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have occurred in the low- and moderate-risk areas. So, everyone is potentially at risk. But financial protection through the purchase of flood insurance is easily available in the NFIP’s some 20,200 participating communities through local insurance agents, with over 85 companies writing the insurance on behalf of the federal government. Homeowners’ insurance policies do not provide coverage for flooding damage. Flood insurance can be written for properties located in high-risk, moderate-risk or low-risk areas. The average NFIP premium is about $500 a year, and there are currently 5.3 million NFIP flood insurance policies in force.

To determine in what flood zone a home or business is located, an insurance agent or lender (or their servicer) will utilize one of FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency’s) flood hazard maps to identify the flood risk. If the flood zone determination is being performed for a closing, and the results indicate that the building is in a high-risk zone (known as a Special Flood Hazard Area) and the loan is through a federally regulated lender, then flood insurance will be required at closing. (Unfortunately, a recent study by RAND Corporation indicated that just over half of the properties in high-risk areas in the U.S. are not covered by flood insurance.)

Because these flood hazard maps, also known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), indicate areas at risk of flooding, they are important tools in the effort to protect lives and properties across the United States. Many of these maps currently in use were developed in the early days of the NFIP and require updating. Over time, water flow and drainage patterns may have changed dramatically due to surface erosion, land development, and natural forces. Consequently, a community’s flood hazard maps may not accurately portray the current flood risks.

Recognizing the need for more reliable flood hazard maps nationwide—and at the urging of a coalition of many stakeholder associations—Congress approved the multiyear Flood Map Modernization (“Map Mod”) effort to update these maps and transform them into more reliable, easy-to-use, and readily available digital products. As a result, Map Mod is enabling communities, citizens, and stakeholders to more efficiently obtain flood hazard data, learn their flood risk, and make more informed decisions about land development, floodplain management, and mitigation projects that limit damages in future flooding events. Ultimately, this effort will result in safer communities. The current goal of Map Mod is to produce digital flood maps to cover 92 percent of the population of the United States and 65 percent of its land area by 2010. As of December 2006, 48 percent of the U.S. population has digital GIS flood data, and 23 percent of the U.S. population has effective flood maps that meet quality standards.

Regarding residents and businesses, remapping of their communities will provide them with up-to-date, reliable, Internet-accessible information about their flood risk on a property-by-property basis. By showing the extent to which areas in their community are at risk for flooding, the new flood maps will help these home and business owners understand their current flood risk and make more informed financial decisions about protecting their property. (Perhaps the number of people financially protected in high-risk areas with flood insurance will increase!)

Using the latest mapping technology, incorporating the most recent data in current models, and delivering it in a Geographic Information System (GIS) format will not only allow the digital maps to be updated more easily and less costly in the future but will also provide the most accurate picture of the current flood risk. This means that many flood designations will change with the new flood maps. It is important that community residents and business owners know their flood risk and understand how these map changes will affect their flood-insurance requirements. Property owners may learn that their flood risk is lower or higher than they thought. So, it is important they stay informed throughout the mapping process.

Typically, when a community goes through a remapping, the preliminary maps are officially presented to the community and that community holds public meetings for the citizens to learn about the changes. A 90-day period then follows, which allows for interested parties to file an appeal or protest to the maps. The community must provide documentation that is the most recent scientific information proving that the specific portion of the map is not accurate. Once all of the appeals and protests are addressed, FEMA will issue a Letter of Final Determination, which basically gives the community six months to pass an ordinance that adopts the new flood maps and related flood insurance studies. Once those six months are up, the new flood maps become effective. It is at this time that any changes in flood zones—and hence new flood insurance requirements—become effective.

Consequently, it is important that anyone involved in the sale or purchase of a property with a structure on it stay updated throughout this whole process. This will help ensure a smooth closing and no surprises concerning a change in the flood zone and the sudden need for flood insurance at the last moment or, even worse, buyers walking away from the sale because they learn at closing that the property is in a high-risk area.

As mentioned earlier, when property owners are mapped into a high-risk area (noted on the flood maps with the letters “A” or “V”) and they have a loan through a federally regulated lender, they will be required to carry flood insurance. This often translates in the owner’s mind as meaning high costs for flood insurance; however, it is important that they know their options. If a building is redrawn into a high-risk area, there actually are lower-cost options available through the NFIP’s “Grandfathering” rule. This Grandfathering rule was created to recognize policyholders who built in compliance with the flood map in place at the time of construction or who have maintained continuous coverage. As a result, they can utilize the flood insurance rates for the zone in effect at the time the building was built or when coverage was taken out, respectively.

If the building on a property is remapped from a high-risk zone to low- or moderate-risk zone—noted as “X” on the flood maps—the flood risk is reduced but not removed. Though these properties do not have a federal requirement for flood insurance, there is still risk for flooding. As mentioned earlier, FEMA statistics show that 20 to 25 percent of flood claims occur in moderate- and low-risk zones. Property owners may qualify for the lower-cost flood insurance policies, known as Preferred Risk Policies, with premiums starting as low as $112 a year for building and contents coverage.

If the building on a property remains in the same zone, residents and business owners should be encouraged to contact their insurance agent to review what coverage options offer the best protection for their property.

By better identifying the current risk, Flood Map Modernization will result in safer communities across the U.S. It is important that businesses involved in the sale and purchase of properties (i.e. title companies, lenders, real estate agents, property appraisers, insurance agents) stay informed throughout their local remapping process. This will allow them to be a resource to their clients by helping them understand the property’s current flood risk, if and how it will be changing, and how to ensure it is then financially protected.

For more information about flood map modernization and flood insurance contact:

  • FEMA Web site on Mapping:
  • For general information about flood insurance:
  • For specific mapping questions: FEMA Mapping Assistance Center 1-877-FEMA-MAP
  • Visit FEMA’s Map Service Center’s website at or call 1-800-358-9616.

  • Diane Littles is part of the Mapping on Demand (MOD) team, National Service Provider for FEMA’s Flood Map Modernization. She can be reached at

    Bruce Bender is with Bender Consulting Services, Inc. and a member of the MOD team. He can be reached at

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