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Flood insurance: Are you in the zone?

flood insurance

For many, the decision whether to purchase flood insurance can be confusing. While waterfront properties are an obvious choice for protection, homeowners farther inland may not be sure whether they also need flood insurance. Fortunately, the government publishes flood zone maps that can help you determine flood risk and insurance need.

Following the tragic flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began improving the flood zone maps which are overseen by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). These flood zones can be found on your community's Flood Hazard Boundary Map or Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

To determine the flood risk for your property, the NFIP provides a searchable online database. If you're a homeowner in a floodplain, it's not so much a question of if a flood will damage your property as when. Once you know your risk, be prepared through the purchase of the proper level of flood insurance.

Your flood zone determines your risk

Every community is able to participate in the NFIP, which administers flood insurance policies for homeowners, renters and business owners. As can be expected, flood insurance premiums are determined by the risks associated with flooding in your area.

To determine your risk, you need to understand what your property's zone designation means. FEMA assigns a letter or combination of letters to each zone which defines the likelihood of a flooding incident in that area.

Zones B, C and X: moderate to low risk

Zones designated as B, C or X fit one of the four following criteria:

  1. Regions with less than 1 percent annual chance of flooding
  2. Regions with a 1 percent annual chance of sheet-flow flooding and average water depths of less than one foot
  3. Regions with a 1 percent annual chance of stream flooding and drainage areas of less than one square mile
  4. Regions with a 1 percent annual chance of flooding that are protected by levees

While flood insurance may not be required in these zones, it is available for those who wish to protect their home and assets in the case of a catastrophic flooding event. The NFIP makes flood insurance available to all property owners and renters in participating communities, even those in moderate to low risk zones.

The As equal high risk

While flood insurance is optional in moderate to low risk zones, it is mandatory for high-risk properties in communities participating with the NFIP. High-risk zones are designated with the letter A and further broken down into the following classifications:

Zone A: These regions have a 1 percent annual chance of flooding. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, properties in Zone A have a 26 percent chance of flooding.

Zones AE and A1-A30: Like Zone A, these regions also have a 1 percent annual chance of flooding as well as a 26 percent chance of flooding during the course of a 30-year mortgage.

Zone AH: Properties in this zone are at risk of shallow flooding with average water depths from one to three feet. As with other A zones, there is a 1 percent annual chance of flooding and a 26 percent chance over the course of a 30-year mortgage.

Zone AO: These regions pose a river or stream flooding hazard or have greater than a 1 percent annual chance of shallow flooding at average water depths of one to three feet. There is also a 26 percent chance of flooding over the course of a 30-year loan.

Zone AR: Unlike other A zones, these regions have only a temporarily increased risk of flooding. Generally, they are located in an area where a flood-control system such as a levee or dam is being constructed or restored. While flood insurance is still mandatory for these areas, premium rates may be capped.

Zone A99: These regions have a 1 percent annual chance of flooding but will also benefit from a federal flood-control system once development reaches a certain level.

High-risk coastal: The Vs

As with Zone A properties, flood insurance is mandatory for coastal areas designated Zone V.

Zone V: These are coastal areas that not only have a 1 percent or greater chance of annual flooding but also the additional hazard of storm waves. During a 30-year mortgage, Zone V properties will have a 26 percent chance of flooding.

Zones VE and V1-V30: These zones also have a 1 percent or greater annual chance of flooding as well as the potential for storm wave hazards. There is a 26 percent chance of flooding throughout the course of a 30-year mortgage. Zones VE and V1-V30 are differentiated from other high-risk coastal zones because of detailed analyses conducted on base flood elevations.

Undetermined: D

Zone D: If your property has been designated Zone D, there has been no flood hazard analysis conducted for your area. There may be the possibility of flooding, but the risk has not yet been determined.

Recent flood map changes

In 2008, FEMA completed its first review in 23 years of 90,000 flood hazard maps. Not only were the maps outdated, they did not show levees. "Zone X Protected by Levee" was one of the key changes made to the maps. For this designation, FEMA requires that levee owners demonstrate the barriers are in proper working order and capable of protecting surrounding communities from severe flooding.

In addition, the new maps indicate "floodways" such as interior rivers, creeks and streams. Flood maps now may also include "velocity hazard" notations, which identify coastal regions susceptible to high waves and all locations with potential for fast-moving floodwaters. Finally, an "X500" category is used to illustrate areas that have a 0.2 percent annual chance for a flood under a new 500-year flood designation.

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