Flood zones, FEMA and insurance
Many questions have been raised since the record 2011 flood, among them are questions about flood insurance and FEMA. With so many people busy trying to repair their homes, a few basic questions can be answered, but will likely raise more questions that must be answered by qualified professionals.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not require that structures within the area of a base flood, one with a 1% chance of occurring in any given year and commonly called a hundred year flood, have flood insurance, unless they are financed by a federally backed loan. As an example, nearly all of the Village of Owego falls into this category according to the most recent Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for Tioga County. Such areas are called Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA).While FEMA does not require flood insurance in a SFHA, if a person receives disaster assistance after a flood, they are then required to purchase flood insurance and maintain it while they live in the dwelling, according to the Tioga County Flood Hazard Mapping Status Report for Property Owners. Future disaster assistance would be denied if flood insurance is not maintained in this case.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides federally backed insurance to nearly 20,000 communities in the United States, according to the FEMA website. Flood insurance is designed to provide an alternative to disaster assistance, the website says, and the NFIP provides federally backed insurance in exchange for communities adopting and enforcing floodplain management plans. This insurance is available to homeowners, renters, and business owners in these communities.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation states on their website that a primary goal of the NFIP is to “break the damage – rebuild – damage cycle by requiring all new, substantially improved, and substantially damaged structures” in areas prone to flooding, or mapped hazard areas, be constructed so that they are reasonably safe from flooding. Protection techniques and proper building elevation must be included in the design of building projects in such areas. Refer to your local Flood insurance Rate Map and local authorities to determine if your structure is included in a mapped hazard area, and building code requirements.
Substantial damage is defined by the NYSDEC on their website as “damage of any origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred,” and it applies whether or not the repairs are actually carried out. New York State building codes then require that repairs meet specific flood design requirements for new construction, to minimize damage during the next flood. Local communities have the responsibility of determining if a structure is in a FEMA mapped flood zone, and if the structure is ‘substantially damaged.
‘The DEC website gives as an example a structure moved off its foundation, saying that such a structure would almost certainly be considered substantially damaged. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that two feet of water in the first floor of a standard building with a basement, or three feet of water in a building without a basement, would require a more detailed determination of whether or not the structure had sustained ‘substantial damage.’ FEMA offers a 36 page downloadable booklet with further answers on substantially damaged buildings on their website library.
Local officials are still working to determine how many buildings in Tioga County sustained more than 50 percent damage, with results expected in the coming weeks.