Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why was the NFIP established by Congress?
For decades, the national response to flood disasters was generally limited to constructing flood-control works such as dams, levees, seawalls, and the like, and providing disaster relief to flood victims. This approach did not reduce losses, nor did it discourage unwise development. In some instances, it may have actually encouraged additional development. To compound the problem, the public generally could not buy flood coverage from insurance companies, and building techniques to reduce flood damage were often overlooked.
In the face of mounting flood losses and escalating costs of disaster relief to the general taxpayers, the U.S. Congress created the NFIP. The intent was to reduce future flood damage through community floodplain management ordinances, and provide protection for property owners against potential losses through an insurance mechanism that requires a premium to be paid for the protection.
2. How was the NFIP established and who administers it?
The U.S. Congress established the NFIP on August 1, 1968, with the passage of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968. The NFIP was broadened and modified with the passage of the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and other legislative measures. It was further modified by the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 and the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004. The NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
3. How does the NFIP benefit property owners? Taxpayers? Communities?
Through the NFIP, property owners in participating communities are able to insure against flood losses. By employing wise floodplain management, a participating community can protect its citizens against much of the devastating financial loss resulting from flood disasters. Careful local management of development in the floodplains results in construction practices that can reduce flood losses and the high costs associated with flood disasters to all levels of government.
4. Is community participation mandatory?
Community participation in the NFIP is voluntary (although some States require NFIP participation as part of their floodplain management program). Each identified flood-prone community must assess its flood hazard and determine whether flood insurance and floodplain management would benefit the community’s residents and economy. However, a community that chooses not to participate within 1 year after the flood hazard has been identified and an NFIP map has been provided is subject to the ramifications explained in the answer to Question 6.
A community’s participation status can significantly affect current and future owners of property located in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). The decision should be made with full awareness of the consequence of each action.
5. What happens when a community does not enforce its floodplain management ordinance?
Communities are required to adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance that meets minimum NFIP requirements. Communities that do not enforce these ordinances can be placed on probation or suspended from the program. This is done only after FEMA has provided assistance to the community to help it become compliant.
6. What is suspension?
Suspension of a participating community (usually after a period of probation) occurs when the community fails to solve its compliance problems or fails to adopt an adequate ordinance. The community is provided written notice of the impending suspension and granted 30 days in which to show cause why it should not be suspended.
Suspension is imposed by FEMA. If suspended, the community becomes non-participating and flood insurance policies cannot be written or renewed. Policies in force at the time of suspension continue
in force for the policy term.
7. What happens if a community does not participate in the NFIP?
Flood insurance under the NFIP is not available within that community. Furthermore, Section 202(a) of Public Law 93-234, as amended, prohibits Federal officers or agencies from approving any form of financial assistance for acquisition or construction purposes in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). For example, this would prohibit loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or secured by the Rural Housing Services. Under Section 202(b) of Public Law 93-234, if a Presidentially declared disaster occurs as a result of flooding in a non-participating community, no Federal financial assistance can be provided for the permanent repair or reconstruction of insurable buildings in SFHAs. Eligible applicants may receive those forms of disaster assistance that are not related to permanent repair and reconstruction of buildings.
If the community applies and is accepted into the NFIP within 6 months of a Presidential disaster declaration, these limitations on Federal disaster assistance are lifted.
8. Who may purchase a flood insurance policy?
NFIP coverage is available to all owners of insurable property (a building and/or its contents) in a community participating in the NFIP. Owners and renters may insure their personal property against flood loss. Builders of buildings in the course of construction, condominium associations, and owners of residential condominium units in participating communities all may purchase flood insurance.
Condominium associations may purchase insurance coverage on a residential building, including all units, and its commonly owned contents under the Residential Condominium Building Association Policy (RCBAP). The unit owner may separately insure personal contents as well as obtain additional building coverage under the Dwelling Form as long as the unit owner’s share of the RCBAP and his/her added coverage do not exceed the statutory limits for a single-family dwelling. The owner of a nonresidential condominium unit may purchase only contents coverage for that unit.
9. How can a property owner determine if the property is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)?
FEMA publishes maps indicating a community’s flood hazard areas and the degree of risk in those areas. Flood insurance maps usually are on file in a local repository in the community, such as the planning and zoning or engineering offices in the town hall or the county building. A property owner may consult these maps to find out if the property is in an SFHA. In addition, maps can be viewed and ordered online or by writing, phoning, or faxing a request to the FEMA Map Service Center. Contact information is listed in the “NFIP Program Information” section at the back of this booklet. Delivery is usually within 2 to 4 weeks. There is a minimal charge for maps for most users, so it is advisable to call for detailed information.
10. How is flood insurance purchased?
After a community joins the NFIP, 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, including an employee of the company authorized to issue the coverage.
The steps leading to the purchase of a flood insurance policy are:
- A property owner or renter perceives a risk of flooding to an insurable building or its contents and elects to purchase flood insurance, or a lender making, renewing, increasing, or extending a loan, or reviewing its mortgage portfolio at any time during the term of the loan, informs the builder or potential buyer that the building is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and flood insurance must be purchased as required by the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994. The builder or borrower contacts an insurance agent or broker or a Write Your Own (WYO) Company.
- The insurance agent completes the necessary forms for the builder or buyer. In the case of a building constructed in an SFHA after the issuance of a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), the builder or buyer must obtain an elevation certificate completed by a licensed engineer, architect, surveyor, or appropriate community official.
- The insurance agent submits the application, necessary elevation certification, and full premium to the NFIP or to a participating WYO Company.
11. How are flood insurance premiums calculated?
A number of factors are considered in determining the premium for flood insurance coverage. They include the amount of coverage purchased; location; age of the building; building occupancy; design of the building; and, for buildings in SFHAs, elevation of the building in relation to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Buildings eligible for special low-cost coverage at a pre-determined, reduced premium rate are single-family dwellings, one- to four-family dwellings, and non-residential buildings located in moderate-risk Zones B, C, and X, with specified loss limitations. (See the “Flood Hazard Assessment and Mapping Requirements” section for definitions of flood zones.)
12. Is the purchase of flood insurance mandatory?
The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 mandate the purchase of flood insurance as a condition of Federal or Federally related financial assistance for
acquisition and/or construction of buildings in SFHAs of any community. The purchase of flood insurance on a voluntary basis is frequently prudent even outside of SFHAs.
The Acts prohibit Federal agency lenders, such as the Small Business Administration (SBA) and United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Housing Service, and Government-Sponsored Enterprises for Housing (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) from making, guaranteeing, or purchasing a loan secured by improved real estate or mobile home(s) in an SFHA, unless flood insurance has been purchased, and is maintained during the term of the loan.
The Acts apply to lenders under the jurisdiction of Federal entities for lending institutions. These Federal entities include the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Farm Credit Administration. The Acts also require Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to implement procedures designed to ensure compliance with the mandatory purchase requirements of the Acts.
The purchase of flood insurance does not apply to conventional loans made by Federally regulated lenders when the community in which the building is located is not participating in the NFIP. Although Federal flood insurance is not available for new construction or substantially improved structures in CBRS areas, conventional loans may be made there by Federally regulated lenders. In these cases, the lending institution is required to notify the borrower that, in the event of a flood-related Presidentially declared disaster, Federal disaster assistance will not be available for the permanent repair or restoration of the building. Federally regulated or insured lending institutions are required in all cases to notify the borrower when the building being used to secure a loan is in an SFHA.
13. Why is there a requirement to purchase flood insurance in communities that have not suffered flooding in many years or ever?
A major purpose of the NFIP is to alert communities to the danger of flooding and to assist them in reducing potential property losses from flooding. Therefore, FEMA determines flood risk through the use of all available information for each community. Historical flood data are only one element used in determining flood risk. More critical determinations can be made by evaluating the community’s rainfall and river-flow data, topography, wind velocity, tidal surge, flood-control measures, development (existing and planned), community maps, and other data.
14. Why is my lender requiring the purchase of flood insurance?
For virtually every mortgage transaction involving a structure in the United States, the lender reviews the current NFIP maps for the community in which the property is located to determine its location relative to the published SFHA and completes the Standard Flood Hazard Determination Form (SFHDF). If the lender determines that the structure is indeed located within the SFHA and the community is participating in the NFIP, the borrower is then notified that flood insurance will be required as a condition of receiving the loan. A similar review and notification is completed whenever a loan is sold on the secondary loan market or perhaps when the lender completes a routine review of its mortgage portfolio. This fulfills the lender’s obligation under the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994 that requires the purchase of flood insurance by property owners who are being assisted by Federal programs or by Federally regulated institutions in the acquisition or improvement of land, or facilities, or structures located or to be located within an SFHA.
15. Is there a waiting period for flood insurance to become effective?
There is normally a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance goes into effect. There are two basic exceptions:
- If the initial purchase of flood insurance is in connection with the making, increasing, extending, or renewing of a loan, there is no waiting period. The coverage becomes effective at the time of the loan, provided the application and presentment of premium are made at or prior to loan closing.
- If the initial purchase of flood insurance is made during the 13-month period following the revision or update of a Flood Insurance Rate Map for the community, there is a 1-day waiting period. In addition to the two basic exceptions, FEMA has issued a policy decision specifying the following four exceptions:
- The 30-day waiting period will not apply when there is an existing insurance policy and an additional amount of flood insurance is required in connection with the making, increasing, extending, or renewing of a loan, such as a second mortgage, home equity loan, or refinancing. The increased amount of flood coverage will be effective as of the time of the loan closing, provided the increased amount of coverage is applied for and the presentment of additional premium is made at or prior to the loan closing.
- The 30-day waiting period will not apply when an additional amount of insurance is required as a result of a map revision. The increased amount of coverage will be effective at 12:01 a.m. on the first calendar day after the date the increased amount of coverage is applied for and the presentment of additional premium is made.
- The 30-day waiting period will not apply when flood insurance is required as a result of a lender’s determining a loan that does not have flood insurance coverage should be protected by flood insurance. The coverage will be effective upon the completion of an application and the presentment of payment of premium.
- The 30-day waiting period will not apply when an additional amount of insurance offered in the renewal bill is being obtained in connection with the renewal of a policy.
16. What flood losses are covered?
The Standard Flood Insurance Policy (SFIP) Forms contain complete definitions of the coverages they provide. Direct physical losses by “flood” are covered. Also covered are losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by waves or currents of water activity exceeding anticipated cyclical levels, or caused by a severe storm, flash flood, abnormal tidal surge, or the like, which result in flooding, as defined. Damage caused by mudflows, as specifically defined in the policy forms, is covered.
17. What is the role of the community in floodplain management?
When the community chooses to join the NFIP, it must adopt and enforce minimum floodplain management standards for participation. FEMA works closely with State and local officials to identify flood hazard areas and flood risks. The floodplain management requirements within the SFHA are designed to prevent new development from increasing the flood threat and to protect new and existing buildings from anticipated flood events.
When a community chooses to join the NFIP, it must require permits for all development in the SFHA and ensure that construction materials and methods used will minimize future flood damage. Permit files must
contain documentation to substantiate how buildings were actually constructed. In return, the Federal Government makes flood insurance available for almost every building and its contents within the community.
Communities must ensure that their adopted floodplain management ordinance and enforcement procedures meet program requirements. Local regulations must be updated when additional data are provided by FEMA or when Federal or State standards are revised.
18. Do Federal requirements take precedence over State requirements?
The regulatory requirements set forth by FEMA are the minimum measures acceptable for NFIP participation. More stringent requirements adopted by the local community or State take precedence over the minimum regulatory requirements established for flood insurance availability.
19. Do the floodplain management requirements apply to construction taking place outside the SFHAs within the community?
The local floodplain management regulations required by the NFIP apply only in SFHAs. However, communities may regulate development in areas of moderate flood hazard.
20. What flood hazard zones are shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Map and what do they mean?
Several areas of flood hazard are commonly identified on the FIRM. One of these areas is the SFHA, which is 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. The 1-percent-annual-chance flood is also referred to as the “base flood.” SFHAs are labeled as Zone A, Zone AO, Zone AH, Zones A1-A30, Zone AE, Zone 99, Zone AR, Zone AR/AE, Zone AR/AH, Zone AR/AO, Zone AR/A1-A30, Zone AR/A, Zone V, Zone VE, and Zones V1-V30. Moderate flood hazard areas, labeled Zone B or Zone X (shaded), are also shown on the FIRM, and are the areas between the limits of the base flood and the 0.2-percentannual-chance flood. The areas of minimal flood hazard, which are the areas outside the SFHA and higher than the elevation of the 0.2-percentannual-chance flood, are labeled Zone C or Zone X (unshaded). The definitions for the various flood hazard areas are presented below.
Zone A: Areas subject to inundation by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood event. Because detailed hydraulic analyses have not been performed, no BFEs or flood depths are shown. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply.
Zones AE and A1-A30: Areas subject to inundation by the 1-percentannual-chance flood event determined by detailed methods. BFEs are shown within these zones. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply. (Zone AE is used on new and revised maps in place of Zones A1-A30.)
Zone AH: Areas subject to inundation by 1-percent-annual-chance shallow flooding (usually areas of ponding) where average depths are 1-3 feet. BFEs derived from detailed hydraulic analyses are shown in this zone.Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply.
Zone AO: Areas subject to inundation by 1-percent-annual-chance shallow flooding (usually sheet flow on sloping terrain) where average depths are 1-3 feet. Average flood depths derived from detailed hydraulic analyses are shown within this zone. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply.
Zones B, C, and X: Areas identified in the community FIS as areas of moderate or minimal hazard from the principal source of flood in the area. However, buildings in these zones could be flooded by severe,
concentrated rainfall coupled with inadequate local drainage systems. Local stormwater drainage systems are not normally considered in the community’s FIS. The failure of a local drainage system creates areas of high flood risk within these rate zones. Flood insurance is available in participating communities but is not required by regulation in these zones. (Zone X is used on new and revised maps in place of Zones B and C.)
21. What procedures are available for changing or correcting a Flood Insurance Rate Map?
FEMA has established administrative procedures for changing effective FIRMs and FIS reports based on new or revised scientific or technical data. A physical change to the affected FIRM panels and portions of the FIS report is referred to as a “Physical Map Revision,” or “PMR.” Changes can also be made by a Letter of Map Change (LOMC). The three LOMC categories are Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F), and Letter of Map Revision (LOMR). These LOMC categories are discussed in more detail later.
22. Why is the burden of proof on the person requesting a map change?
FEMA and its Federal and private-sector contractors exercise great care to ensure that analytical methods employed in FISs are scientifically and technically correct, the engineering practices followed meet professional standards, and the results of the FIS are accurate. In making amendments and revisions to NFIP maps and reports, FEMA must adhere to the same engineering standards applied in preparing the effective maps and reports. Therefore, when requesting changes to NFIP maps, community officials and property owners are required to submit adequate supporting data. FEMA would have no justification for changing a flood hazard determination without sufficient evidence that the change is appropriate.