Flood Risk Management Program


Frequently Asked Questions

FEMA Related Programs
 What is the Community Rating System (CRS)?

The Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program within the NFIP that recognizes and encourages communities to undertake floodplain management activities that exceed minimum NFIP requirements.  Flood insurance premium rates are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk that results from community actions to: (1) reduce flood losses, (2) facilitate accurate insurance rating, and (3) promote the awareness of flood insurance.

For CRS communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.  For example, a Class 1 community would receive a 45-percent premium discount for properties located in FEMA-designated SFHAs, while a Class 9 community would receive a 5-percent discount.  The CRS classes for communities are based on 18 creditable activities, organized under four categories: (i) Public Information, (ii) Mapping and Regulations, (iii) Flood Damage Reduction, and (iv) Flood Preparedness.  More information about the Community Rating system can be found at https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program-community-rating-system.

 What is FEMA’s Map Modernization Program?

FEMA’s Flood Map Modernization Program, also referred to as Map Mod, was a multi-year, multi-billion dollar effort to digitize and update Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).  The goal was to provide easily accessible, digital flood maps.  This program’s last year of funding was FY09.  Map Mod has transitioned into the Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning Program, also referred to as Risk MAP.

An important element of Map Mod was Procedure Memorandum 34, reiterating FEMA’s continuing requirement that levees be appropriately certified and accredited if they are to be shown as providing protection on new FEMA Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs).

 What is Risk MAP?

Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (Risk MAP) is a new FEMA program that provides communities with flood information and tools they can use to enhance their mitigation plans and better protect their citizens.  Through more accurate flood maps, risk assessment tools, and outreach support, Risk MAP builds on Map Modernization and strengthens local ability to make informed decisions about reducing risk.  Risk MAP’s ultimate goal is saving lives and dollars.

Through collaboration with state, local and tribal entities, Risk MAP focuses on products and services beyond the traditional DFIRM, which is primarily used to set flood insurance rates and communicate 1-percent-annual-chance flood risk.  FEMA will advise officials on how to effectively communicate risk to citizens and create corresponding mitigation plans that work.

 What is a DFIRM?

A Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM) is the FEMA mapping product to show where flooding occurs and where flood insurance is required.  DFIRMs are produced using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and include a supporting database.  The DIFRM database was the flagship product of FEMA’s Map Modernization Program and increased the usability of flood risk data.  It continues to be central to Risk MAP.

The DFIRM and supporting database has the following advantages:

  • A map can be customized.
  • An area of interest can be easily found and magnified.
  • Areas and distances can be measured on screen.
  • Other GIS data can be overlaid with the DFRIM database.

As of October 2009, FEMA stopped issuing paper FIRMS, except for one copy for each community, when new flood maps are issued.  Current effective maps and historic maps are available from the FEMA Map Service Center at http://msc.fema.gov. The online FEMA “Map Viewer” includes DFIRM data, including mapped flood hazard zones, and is available online at https://hazards.fema.gov/wps/portal/mapviewer.

 What is the National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL)?

The NFHL is a database repository that contains the digital flood hazard information collected for new flood map studies and Letters of Map Revision (LOMRs).  FEMA created the NFHL to provide stakeholders with an alternative method to access flood hazard information captured in DFIRMs and LOMRs.  The NFHL is an important component of FEMA’s Digital Vision – an initiative to reduce reliance on paper maps in favor of digital mapping data.  Distribution of DFIRM and LOMR data through the NFHL lowers distribution costs and reduces the need for static map images through FEMA’s MSC.  The NFHL data layer is made available to program stakeholders through:

  • FEMA’s Map Viewer, which allows users to easily view NFHL data on a web page.
  • Available data layers for download for use with a GIS tool such as Google Earth, where it can be displayed as a layer and combined with other data sets; and
  • Direct data distribution from FEMA’s Map Service Center on a state-by-state basis, which allows stakeholders such as insurance companies to integrate NFHL data with other geo-referenced data into a single database for complex queries and reports.
 What is a Provisionally Accredited Levee (PAL)?
The Provisionally Accredited Levee, or PAL, was established by FEMA’s Procedure Memorandum 43 in September 2006 and updated to accommodate the USACE Maintenance Deficient Corrective Program (MDCP) procedures in March 2007.  A PAL is a levee system that local government believes can be certified by a Professional Engineer as meeting the requirements of federal regulations of the National Flood Insurance program found in 44 CFR 65.10 and accredited as providing protection on new FEMA Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRM), but data is not immediately available to document its certification status.  During a two-year period when the community is obtaining the necessary data to confirm the levees certification status, FEMA showed the protected area behind the PAL on the DFIRM as a moderate-risk flood zone (i.e., a shaded X Zone).  The two-year period was not intended to allow time for levee repairs.  A PAL disclaimer appeared on all Flood Insurance Rate Maps, notifying the public that only a provisional accreditation has been granted.  If a community fails to submit the appropriate certification documentation in the two years, FEMA may take 18 months to revise the map and issue a new DFIRM disaccrediting the levee and denoting the area behind the levee as a high-risk Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).
 What is a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)?
A Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) is shown on the DFIRM as the land area covered by the floodwaters of the base (one-percent-annual-chance) flood.  SFHAs represent high risk flooding areas and are labeled on the DFIRM as Zone A or V.  The SFHA is the area where the NFIP’s floodplain management regulations must be enforced and the area where the mandatory purchase of flood insurance applies.  The owner of a structure is a high-risk area must carry flood insurance if the owner carries a mortgage from a Federally regulated or insured lender or servicer.
 How can a community request a Flood Insurance Study (FIS)?

As FEMA moves forward with Risk MAP, new approaches for determining flood risks will be implemented.  As part of this effort, FEMA is using a watershed-based Coordinated Needs Management Strategy, or CNMS, to track the assessment process, document engineering gaps and their resolution, and prioritize flood map updates.  In order to provide the best maps possible, FEMA works with local stakeholders, including floodplain administrators, to ensure all information on the flood maps is up-to-date and accurate.  Local floodplain administrators play a key role in this process.

Communities requesting map updates should contact their FEMA Regional Office.  FEMA will determine the priority for identifying new study areas and updating areas already studied based on need, risk, available topographic data, and the community’s contribution to the flood study.

 How can a community revise a Flood Insurance Rate Map?

There are different ways that a FIRM can be physically revised:

  • A community may apply for a Letter of Map Revision, or LOMR, to show changes to floodplains, floodways, or flood elevations.  LOMRs are generally based on the implementation of physical measures (such as construction of bridges, culverts, channels, etc.) that can affect the hydrologic or hydraulic characteristics of a flooding source and result in the modification of the existing regulatory floodway, the effective Base Flood Elevation (BFE), or the SFHA.  The community must supply technical data that supports its map revision request.  For more information about the LOMR process, go to http://www.fema.gov/letter-map-amendment-letter-map-revision-based-fill-process.
  • A community can request a Physical Map Revision, or PMR, which is an official republication of a community’s FIRM.  These changes typically cover a larger geographical area than those reflected through the LOMR process.  The community must submit scientific and technical data to FEMA to support its request for a PMR.  Because of its scope, a PMR generally may take as long as 18 months to complete. For more information, please see: https://www.fema.gov/flood-map-revision-processes.
 Why does the map say a  structure is in a high-risk flood zone when the property in which it sits is at  a relatively high elevation?

Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) cannot reflect every variation in the physical geography of an area.  Therefore, a FIRM will occasionally show a property as being in the high-risk flood zone (zones starting with A or V), even though the building or surrounding ground may be above the base flood elevation (BFE).  As a result, FEMA has developed procedures for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or if fill has been placed, a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F), to determine whether a specific property/structure lies within the highrisk Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).  This determination requires the requestor to submit property information that allows FEMA to make a flood zone determination based on the property/structure’s location and elevation.  More information about this process can be found at http://www.fema.gov/letter-map-amendment-letter-map-revision-based-fill-process or by calling the FEMA Map Information eXchange (FMIX) toll-free at 1-877-336-2627.

 What is a LOMA?

A Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) is an amendment to the currently effective Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) that determines whether a specific property/structure lies within the high-risk Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).  If a property/structure is found to lie outside of a SFHA, either by location or elevation, the mandatory flood insurance requirements of the NFIP no longer apply.  More information on the LOMA process can be found at https://www.fema.gov/letter-map-amendment-letter-map-revision-f-tutorial-series-choose-tutorial.

 What is a LOMR?

A Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) is an official physical revision of the currently effective Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). This process has the effect of revising the FIRM without reprinting the affected FIRM map panel(s). A LOMR is submitted to FEMA by the local community and upon approval, officially changes flood zone delineations and elevations. More information about the LOMR process can be found at http://www.fema.gov/letter-map-revision.

 Can U.S. Army Corps of Engineers submit a LOMR at  the completion of a project?

No. The Corps of Engineers can provide the community with all the necessary information gathered during the study and construction of the project if the project will change flood hazards shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).  This information may include the certification of levee(s) as meeting the requirements of federal regulations of the National Flood Insurance program found in 44 CFR 65.10 if the appropriate certification documentation has been completed (EC 1110-2-6067 (pdf, 1.54 MB) ).  The chief executive officer of the local community can submit the LOMR package to FEMA for review.

 Where can I find more information about the maps that were used to determine relative risk level?

Flood maps are produced as a joint effort between a local community and FEMA.  Once the study is complete, FEMA publishes the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).  One set of paper copies of the new maps is provided to the local community and is kept on file in the Community Map Repository, which is typically found in the community’s planning and zoning or engineering department.  Along with the FIRMs, FEMA also publishes a Flood Insurance Study (FIS) Report that also is provided to the community and documents the detailed hydrologic and hydraulic analyses used to model the one-percent-annual chance flood event, determine base flood elevations, and designate floodways and high risk zones in the area that was studied. Digital copies of the FIRMs and FIS reports are available to view or purchase at https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home.

 Is flood damage from wind-driven rain covered by flood insurance?

No.  When rain enters through a wind-damaged window or door, or comes through a hole in a wall or roof, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) considers the resulting ponding to be wind storm-related.  FEMA defines a flood as “A general and temporary condition of partial to complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties from overflow of inland or tidal waters, from unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, or from mudflow.”

 What are the limits to NFIP  flood insurance coverage?
Residential building coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is limited to $250,000 for the building and $100,000 for contents.  For non-residential structures, coverage is available up to $500,000 for the building and $500,000 for contents.  Condominium associations can obtain coverage for a total of up to $250,000 times the number of units in the building.  Some private insurance companies offer Excess Flood Insurance, which provides higher limits of coverage than the NFIP.  (These products are not associated with the NFIP.) More information about flood insurance and its coverages can be found at http://www.FloodSmart.gov.
 How have recent hurricanes affected the NFIP?
Because of the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP’s) multi-billion dollar debt caused by thousands of claims for flood damage from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, Congress is looking closely at ways to improve the NFIP, both in rates and coverage.  Congress implemented some policy changes to the Program as part of the 2012 five-year reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
 What is the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Program?

The Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Program was created as part of the National Flood Insurance Reform Act (NFIRA) of 1994 (42 U.S.C. 4101) with the goal of reducing or eliminating claims under the NFIP.  FEMA provides FMA funds to assist states and communities in implementing measures that reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of flood damage to buildings, manufactured homes, and other structures insured under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  Three types of FMA grants are available:

  • Planning Grants to prepare Flood Mitigation Plans.
  • Project Grants to implement measures to reduce flood losses, such as elevation, acquisition, or relocation of NFIP-insured structures.  States are encouraged to prioritize FMA funds for applications that include repetitive loss properties; these include structures with two or more losses each with a claim of at least $1,000 within any ten-year period since 1978. Only NFIP-participating communities with approved Flood Mitigation Plans can apply for FMA Projects Grants.
  • Management Cost Grants for the states to help administer the FMA Program.  Up to ten percent of Project Grants may be awarded to states for Management Cost Grants.
 What information is available from FEMA on levees?

FEMA has several information sources and programs regarding levees and their impact on addressing flood risk management:

  • The following link provides access to FEMA’s Living with Levees page, which includes a Levee Resource Library.
  • FEMA’s process to analyze and map areas on the landward side of non-accredited levees on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) is described at https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance.
 How does the Coastal  Barrier Resources Act impact funding available for communities through the Flood  Mitigation Assistance Program?

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act, or CBRA, significantly limits Federal assistance available in areas designated within the Coastal Barrier Resources system.  If any state or community wishes to apply for a planning or project grant for a CBRA unit within this system, the FEMA Regional Environmental Officer must first consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the eligibility of the activity.  More information about the Coastal Barrier Resources Act can be found at https://www.fema.gov/coastal-barrier-resources-system.

 Are additional funding sources available for flood risk mitigation activities?

Multiple grant sources can be combined for a single project, or for a group of common initiatives.  Potential funding sources include funds from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which supports community watershed plans and some project implementation actions, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the NFIP Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) program for property owners, and Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans available for homeowners and small businesses after a federally-declared disaster. 

 What is the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)?
FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster is declared.  The purpose of the HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster.  The HMGP is authorized under Section 404 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.  More information about the HMGP can be found at http://www.fema.gov/hazard-mitigation-grant-program.
 What are some of FEMA's Flood Insurance Rate Map Zone Designations?

Flood hazard areas identified on the Flood Insurance Rate Map are identified as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). SFHA are defined as the area that will be inundated by the flood event having a 1-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. SFHAs are labeled as Zone A, Zone AO, Zone AH, Zones A1-A30, Zone AE, Zone A99, Zone AR, Zone AR/AE, Zone AR/AO, Zone AR/A1-A30, Zone AR/A, Zone V, Zone VE, and Zones V1-V30.

Zone A - Areas subject to inundation by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood event generally determined using approximate methodologies. Because detailed hydraulic analyses have not been performed, no Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) or flood depths are shown. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements and floodplain management standards apply.

Zone AE – Areas subject to inundation by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood event determined by detailed methods. Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) are shown. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements and floodplain management standards apply.

Zone A99 – Areas subject to inundation by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood event, but which will ultimately be protected upon completion of an under-construction Federal flood protection system. These are areas of special flood hazard where enough progress has been made on the construction of a protection system, such as dikes, dams, and levees, to consider it complete for insurance rating purposes. Zone A99 may only be used when the flood protection system has reached specified statutory progress toward completion. No Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) or depths are shown. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements and floodplain management standards apply.

Zone AR – Areas that result from the decertification of a previously accredited flood protection system that is determined to be in the process of being restored to provide base flood protection. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements and floodplain management standards apply.

Zone V - Areas along coasts subject to inundation by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood event with additional hazards associated with storm-induced waves. Because detailed hydraulic analyses have not been performed, no Base Flood Elevations or flood depths are shown. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements and floodplain management standards apply.

Zone X – The flood insurance rate zone that corresponds to areas outside the 1% annual chance floodplain; mandatory purchase requirements for flood insurance and minimum building standards do not apply to this zone.

For more information on these and other flood zone designations, including Guidance related to these designations, see https://www.fema.gov/glossary/flood-zones.