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Welcome to the Flood Zone!

A nationally distributed resource for those interested in flood zone issues, land surveying, real estate, history, and educational opportunities. If you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, simply click the unsubscribe link in the footer of this message.

Jim Headshot

Message from Jim

At the end of each year, most of us ready ourselves for the holidays by reflecting on the importance of friends, family, and of our many blessings. For me, it is also a great time to share my personal list of NFIP misconceptions which need to be eliminated to make future experiences with the Program less confusing. The timing of this list perfectly coincides with another news article about a community that was impacted by a major flooding event after a map change occurred, which prompted homeowners to cancel their flood insurance policies because mandatory flood insurance was no longer required. Mentioning the source or the location of the article is not necessary, but breaking down the information within it is worthy of discussion since it continues to send many in the wrong direction.

First, flood damage is often not covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. If you do not have two policies, there is a good chance that flood coverage does not exist. Review your policy, or call your insurance agent to make sure you have a clear understanding of your flood coverage.

Next, is the belief that when the mandatory insurance requirement is removed by a lender, actual flood risk is no longer a concern. In my opinion, there is no bigger misconception. It is important to remember the mandatory flood insurance requirement only pertains to loans created by federally-regulated and insured financial institutions or Federal Agency loans in excess of $5000, when the loan collateral falls in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). In other words, it is simply a tool to aid in the evaluation of risk for the investor holding the federally-insured mortgage note as an investment. A lender may remove the mandatory insurance requirement if presented with data that indicates a lower perceived flood risk, typically through a FEMA Letter of Map Amendment Removal Document, but they may also remove it if the above mortgage requirements no longer apply.

To break down this misconception differently: if you believe that any dwelling which does not have mandatory flood insurance is safe from flooding, then any dwelling outside a Special Flood Hazard Area, one which has a private mortgage, or is purchased with cash, would be forever safe from a flooding event. Hopefully, that sounds crazy! Also, everyone must understand that a storm can reach further inland than the SFHA line on a flood map.

Even if a map revision contains new data which considers changes to the watershed, impervious surfaces, development, and other components which impact flood, it is incorrect to assume the program is in the business of weather forecasting. Actual risk should never be overlooked and is very difficult to predict. If it was easy to predict, many weather forecasters would lose their job since it is not uncommon for them to be incorrect. We don’t even hold them accountable for being incorrect, but since flood mapping impacts our lives, a greater level of accuracy is demanded.

As floodplain consultants, whenever we remove a structure or parcel of land from the SFHA using FEMA’s Letter of Map Change process, we always recommend a Preferred Risk Policy (PRP). This recommendation is made regardless if the improvements were 0.1’ or 30’ above the Base Flood Elevation, and to emphasize to our client that perceived risk per the maps and actual risk are different. Hurricane Irene brutally reminded Vermonters living in a mountainous non-coastal state that anyone can be affected by a flooding event. Unfortunately, many of them did not have a flood insurance policy because they were not in a high-risk flood zone and therefore it was not required. Based on my understanding of the article, many of the homeowners who had the mandatory flood insurance requirement removed did not understand that a PRP was an option so they were entirely without coverage. Based on the quoted fee of the flood insurance policy, it is my guess that the lower cost non-mandatory policy was not even offered.

Another large misconception pertains to the phrase “100-year flood event”. This term does not mean that a large storm will only occur once every 100 years. The term means there is a 1% annual chance of a storm occurring which causes a flood that equals or exceeds the "base flood" elevation, also referred to as the "100-year flood". This statistic is based on probability, and to assume a storm of that magnitude will not occur more than once in 100 years is no different than flipping a coin 20 times expecting to get heads 10 times. It is a reasonable expectation given the 50/50 chance, but since it is very possible heads may only come up 5 times, we probably wouldn’t risk betting a large sum of money on it. Yet people do it all the time when considering flood insurance. This is a very important misconception to remove since homeowners featured in the article were comfortable that another large storm would not occur for 85 years, since the last large one was 15 years ago.

My largest concern with the article is that it appears to have been written solely by a news reporter interviewing homeowners, with no content or insight provided by a professional consultant who understands flood risk or the National Flood Insurance Program. It is my opinion that since the media can fuel misconceptions, and it is truly difficult to predict the frequency and severity of storms, or how a future map change could impact a property, homeowners, lenders, insurance agents, community officials, and real estate licensees, should all take responsibility for understanding program purpose and options, and work together to be proactive.


Upcoming Continuing Education Class!

"Land Surveying, Flood Zones, and Real Estate" - 3 CE Credits

Join us at Husson University, January 9, 2017 for "Land Surveying, Flood Zones, and Real Estate"! This course is approved for 3 continuing education credits for Maine Real Estate Licensees, Maine Real Estate Appraisers, and Maine Code Enforcement Officers.

The course is being offered for free, courtesy of Bangor Savings Bank. Click the button below for more details!



There is no better time than now to start discussions about climate change resiliency on the community level. Networking with experts from diverse fields has now become easier, thanks to some very cool initiatives such as "Thriving Earth Exchange" and "Resilience Dialogues". These platforms provide resources that offer credited, science-based guidance on community-specific planning needs.

Click here to read a recent article about these initiatives, "Can Networked Knowledge Help Communities Thrive on a Turbulent Planet?"

cross section

The lines that horizontally cross the river indicate cross section locations. Data pertaining to each cross section can be found in a detailed Flood Insurance Study report for that community.

Flood Terminology: Cross Section

A cross section is a graphical depiction of a stream and the floodplain at a particular point along the stream. It is taken at right angles to the flow of the stream. At each cross section, an engineer collects information on the size and geometry of the channel, the shape of the floodplain, and the changes in the elevation of the ground.

Cross sections are taken of the floodplain at locations that are representative of local conditions, such as each bridge or other major obstruction, as well as other locations depending on the topography. The more changes there are in topography, the more cross sections are needed to define the floodplain accurately.

(NFIP Floodplain Management Requirements, FEMA-480, 2005)


Flood Fact

Preliminary flood hazard data from proposed Flood Insurance Rate Maps and Flood Insurance Study reports cannot be used to make official flood zone determinations for flood insurance purposes. Only the currently effective FIRM can be used to make the determination.


In the News

"Sunset Harbour's Raised Streets Lead to Denied Flood Insurance Claim for Restaurant"

By Sean Stewart-Muniz, The Real Deal, November 17, 2016

An interesting situation has occurred as a result of a project intended to protect a neighborhood from flood damage.

"When the city of Miami Beach embarked on an unprecedented $400 million project to fight back rising seas two years ago, officials boasted that raising Sunset Harbour’s perennially flooded streets would keep the neighborhood dry. But while the streets rose, buildings stayed the same height. And for Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, that difference in elevation proved to be a deal breaker when it came time to file a flood insurance claim."

Read more!

It's important to remember that the NFIP isn't a "one size fits all" program. There will be instances when mitigation strategies and higher standards intended for increased safety will cause negative impacts. While thorough research is done to minimize or eliminate adverse impacts, these strategies are meant to serve a greater good, for a longer period of time, and trial and error will occur as we learn the best ways to adapt to a changing climate.

Local News

"Portland Forum Will Examine Effects of Climate Change on Bayside"

The Portland Press Herald, December 1, 2016

"The city is sponsoring a community forum this month to discuss ways to protect Portland’s Bayside neighborhood from the effects of rising seas and climate change. '“Rising sea levels have already begun to affect the city. We saw this very dramatically in September 2015 when heavy rains coincided with a high tide. Many streets in Bayside flooded, causing damage to dozens of vehicles, disrupting travel, and interfering with business activities. This type of event will become more common as we move toward mid century and beyond,” Troy Moon, the city’s Sustainability Coordinator, said in a statement.'"

Read more!


December Flood Funny

Well, that's one way to protect your goods from flood damage...


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