Welcome to the Flood Zone! A nationally distributed resource for those interested in flood zone issues, land surveying, real estate, history, and edu

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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.


We are pleased to announce the 6th Anniversary of "Welcome to the Flood Zone!"

Thank you to all our loyal recipients who have followed us over the years! As always, we welcome your feedback so we can continue to offer current and relevant information to our growing national audience.


In this Issue of Welcome to the Flood Zone:

Message from Jim: Important Notes on Elevation Certificates
Announcement: New Consultant
Resources: Smarter Safer and Understanding Risk
Flood Q&A: What is FEMA Mitigation, and How Effective Is It?
In the News: Articles featuring West Virginia, California, and Louisiana
Fun Fact: Tree Rings and Climate Science

Jim Headshot

Message from Jim

FEMA’s Elevation Certificate is, in my opinion, the most important document which exists in the flood program. Communities use them as an administrative tool to ensure compliance with floodplain management ordinances, the insurance industry uses them to determine proper flood insurance premiums, and property owners can use them to support a request for a structure’s removal from a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). With its many uses, error and misconception are not uncommon. We have completed many Elevation Certificates over the years and would like to share some of our experiences in hopes of reducing large oversights and improving their use within the real estate, insurance, and land use industries.

Expiration Dates:
The form itself, FEMA Form 086-0-33 (7/15), currently has an expiration date of November 30, 2018, and replaces all previous editions. FEMA occasionally makes changes to the form fields, diagrams, and other features, and releases revised forms every few years. With the exception of the building photographs having a 90-day expiration period for use in obtaining NFIP flood insurance, there is no statement on the form or within the instructions that state the elevation data expires when the form does. Communities are tasked with keeping elevation data on file to document compliance with their floodplain management ordinance, and homeowners and consultants may access these files from the municipality to collect information on a property. This means outdated documents and data are potentially used when making land use decisions, so exercise caution here.

Similar to the risk of using an old boundary survey or subdivision plan when making improvements, land surveyors often need to perform updated surveys and computations to confirm plan data is accurate to date. For liability reasons, we never assume revisions to plans, deed descriptions, or physical changes to a property or structure have not occurred. Elevation Certificate data should not be assumed to be up to date either.

For example: improper fill could be placed on a property after the original elevation certification date, changing the Lowest Adjacent Grade (Section C2.f), which could change both perceived and actual flood risk. It may even alter the outcome of a successful removal from the SFHA. What if the lowest floor elevation changes due to an alteration in building characteristics or placement of utilities? Insurance coverage and premium may be affected. If time has passed, or there have been obvious changes made to a property or structure since the date of the original Elevation Certificate, we recommend having a new one performed to avoid liability for errors in the data.

Incorrect Data:
Common errors found on completed Elevation Certificates include incorrect building diagram number, flood zone, Base Flood Elevation, flood map reference, and improper datum conversion on elevations; incorrect computations for a crawlspace, enclosure, or flood vent openings; or inadequate photographs. Incorrect data, if accepted, often means incorrect insurance rating or determination of compliance. Revisions and recertification decrease project efficiency while increasing liability, so be diligent about proper data collection and reporting.

Lowest Adjacent Grade:
Pertaining to flood insurance rating, when improvements being used for loan collateral are horizontally scaled in a Special Flood Hazard Area, the users of an Elevation Certificate should understand the importance of the improvement’s Lowest Adjacent Grade (the lowest point of the ground level immediately next to a building/deck). As an example, our company eliminated a homeowner’s mandatory flood insurance policy which she had been paying annually since her closing 8 years ago. Unfortunately, the dwelling was an “inadvertent inclusion” by horizontal scale, meaning it scaled in a high risk flood zone per the Flood Insurance Rate Map, but the elevation of the Lowest Adjacent Grade was above the Base Flood Elevation; in this case, it was 30 feet above! The Elevation Certificate provided easy removal through a Letter of Map Amendment, but no one told our client this was an option when she purchased her home. Removal should have occurred the same year of purchase, not 8 years later. But remember, an Elevation Certificate alone will not remove a mandatory flood insurance requirement, only a Letter of Map Amendment Removal can do that.

Filling out the Elevation Certificate properly is extremely important, but it’s not just about collecting and reporting data; actually understanding the ways it can inform on flood risk and resolve real estate issues has great benefit to consultants and their clients. Take proper care to reduce errors, use education and experience to eliminate misconceptions, and keep data current.



Welcome Johann!

It is our pleasure to announce that Johann Buisman, a licensed Professional Land Surveyor for over 30 years, has joined us and is assisting our firm as a consultant. Johann has over 35 years of diversified surveying experience with expertise in coastal surveys and high-level construction projects, and has been an expert witness in many court cases. He is currently licensed in Maine, New Hampshire, and Colorado, is an active member of the Maine Society of Land Surveyors, and most recently, was a partner/owner at Northeast Civil Solutions in Scarborough, Maine for more than 20 years. We look forward to having Johann as an experienced resource for our company.



Smarter Safer

SmarterSafer.Org - Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy, is a national coalition that is made up of a diverse chorus of voices united in favor of environmentally-responsible, fiscally-sound approaches to natural catastrophe policy that promotes public safety.

Check out their website to review their policy positions, news articles, and other available resources regarding flood risk and mitigation, insurance rates, and policy reform.


Understanding Risk

Understanding Risk (UR) is an open and global community of over 6,500 experts and practitioners interested and active in disaster risk identification. UR community members share knowledge and experience, collaborate, and discuss innovation and best practice in risk assessment.

Click here to view UR's resource page on their website. There is a plethora of information there!


Flood Q & A

What is FEMA Mitigation, and How Effective Is It?

Mitigation is the effort to reduce the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. It is found to create safer communities, enable individuals to recover rapidly from floods and other disasters, and lessen the financial impact on the Federal Treasury, States, Tribes, and Communities.

A study by the Multihazard Mitigation Council shows that for each dollar spent on mitigation, an average of $4.00 is saved, with positive benefit-cost ratios for all hazard types studied. As well, homes constructed to NFIP standards incur 80% less damage from floods than structures not built to those standards.

Check out FEMA's Fact Sheet "Mitigation's Value to Society" to learn more!


In the News

High School Students Build Tiny Houses for Flood Victims

By Kara Lofton, NPR, February 6, 2017
"Since flooding in West Virginia last June killed at least 23 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes, residents have been struggling to find adequate housing...the school board decided students would build tiny homes for flood victims rather than working on bookshelves or birdhouses." Read more!

What California's Dam Crisis Says about the Changing Climate

By Noah S. Diffenbaugh, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, February 14, 2017
"The damage to the "Oroville Dam, where the primary spillway developed a giant gash and the emergency spillway threatened to erode, illustrates the hazard of relying on aging infrastructure to protect us from extreme weather...But age and upkeep are not the only problems. Our water system was designed and built in an old climate, one in which extremely warm years were less common and snowpack was more reliable." Click here to read the article.

When It Comes to Louisiana Floods, How much Does a Foot Really Matter?

By Cameron Smith & William Booher, The Advocate, February 14, 2017
"One foot can make a lot of difference during a flood. Some Louisianans will find that out the hard way. In November of 2016, the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council adopted the 2015 International Residential Code, thus removing the minimum one foot of elevated space, also known as "freeboard," that had been required for Special Flood Hazard Areas."
Click here to read the article.

tree rings

Fun Fact

Tree Rings Can Provide Snapshots of Earth's Past Climate!

You probably know that you can tell the age of a tree by the number of its rings, but did you also know that the width of the rings can indicate whether the climate that year was warm and wet or cooler and dry?

Check out this article from NASA's "Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet" website to learn more!


March Flood Funny

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Image by Signe Wilkinson, from Truthdig.com

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