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Updates to FEMA insurance map add thousands of homes to floodplains

Homes that are required to have flood insurance jumped nearly 300% in League City alone. The last time FEMA drew flood insurance rate maps was 20 years ago.

LEAGUE CITY, Texas — The Hidden Lakes subdivision in League City can’t hide from FEMA.

The agency’s newly updated flood insurance rate maps mean virtually everyone here must pay.

"I need to check how much I can afford," said homeowner Gloria Lee.

Lee still lives without flood insurance even after Hurricane Harvey flooded half her property, but League City officials say more than half of its homes will now sit in a floodplain and be required to have it.

"I mean, I think all you have to do is look at the blue to see the bulk of our city, over 50 percent, is now in that 100-year floodplain zone,” said League City spokesperson Sarah Greer Osborne as she pointed to new maps.

Osborne said the last time FEMA drew flood insurance rate maps, known as FIRMs, was 20 years ago.

The 2019 updates mean more than 3,700 homes will be required to carry flood insurance compared to 1,200 back then.

That’s a nearly 300% increase.

She said the biggest takeaway is to check with FEMA or your own insurance agent about potential changes.

And it’s always good advice to have flood insurance anyway in the Houston area as so many learned during Harvey.

"If those owners would’ve had flood insurance, think of the difference that would have made in their lives," said Osborne. "I mean, we have folks still putting their homes together two years after the fact.”

It’s something Lee plans to look into before the next threat.

“I’m going to call, I’m going to check, yeah,” said Lee.

Not only is Galveston County getting new flood maps - Harris County is as well.

Click www.MAAPnext.org to learn more about what's being done there.

Check with FEMA here to search your area here:  https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home.

Here's FEMA's response to some of our questions about the FIRMs:

- Is this happening just in our area this year or is it happening nationwide?

Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968 as an alternative to taxpayer-funded disaster relief for flood survivors. 

This program enables property owners and renters in participating communities to purchase flood insurance as a financial protection against flood losses. In exchange, states and communities nationwide adopt floodplain management regulations designed to reduce flood risk and future flood damage.

The federal agency responsible for administering the NFIP is FEMA. Their role includes the identification of flood hazards, evaluation of flood risk and providing appropriate flood hazard and risk information to communities nationwide. 

This information is provided to communities in the form of maps, known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).

FIRMs are used to enforce state and community floodplain management regulations, calculate flood risk premiums, and determine whether property owners are required by law to obtain flood insurance as a condition of obtaining loans from federally-backed lending institutions or other federally-base financial assistance.

States and communities also use FIRMs for emergency management, land-use and water resource planning.

Most importantly, FIRMs are used for determining where flood insurance must be purchased and for how much that insurance will cost based on flood risk.

This assessment of risk is ongoing nationwide. 

As risk change, communities participating in the NFIP are required to update their FIRMs through the Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) process. FEMA also works in partnership with states and regional authorities to identify and assess flood risk through its Cooperating Technical Partner (CTP) program. 

In Harris County, the Harris County Flood Control District is a Cooperating Technical Partner (CTP) with FEMA.

- What’s the best advice for homeowners seeking info on how their homes may be impacted?

FEMA encourages property owners to know their flood risk. Many tools are available for property owners to look up their address online to determine the latest information available. 

One of these sources of information is FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer, which is found at https://msc.fema.gov/nfhl

The flood maps for Galveston County will be available on this viewer after August 15, 2019. 

Before this date, the Galveston preliminary maps are available for viewing at https://msc.fema.gov/fmcv, which is where preliminary FIRMs are available for review.

FIRMs identify the 1% annual chance event, but larger storm events can and do occur. 

Approximately 25 percent of all flood insurance claims occur in these areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages property owners to maintain flood insurance coverage, even if they are not required to do so by their lender. 

Property owners may be eligible to pay much less for flood insurance coverage if the property is located in an area designated as moderate or minimal risk. For this reason, FEMA encourages property owner to talk to their insurance agent about financial protection from flood losses through flood insurance.

- Can you tell me why maps are revised?

Mapping floodplains is vital for implementing all floodplain management strategies. 

It creates broad-based awareness of flood risk; provides the data necessary for floodplain management and land-use regulations, hazard mitigation programs, and rating flood insurance for new construction on an actuarial basis; and supports the decision making process with respect to the natural values of floodplains.

For those property owners in Harris County, FEMA encourages you to visit the www.MAAPnext.org

This website was launched by Harris County Flood Control District to support its partnership project with FEMA, MAAPnext, a Modeling, Assessment and Awareness Project (MAAP) that will produce the next generation of flood hazard maps for Harris County. 

MAAPnext will use the most up-to-date technology to provide a better understanding of flood risks throughout Harris County, including previously unmapped urban flooding (also referred to as overland, ponding or non-riverine flooding).

MAAPnext will develop updated FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), as well as additional tools for communicating the results of this project. 

These tools include an array of flood risk products that allow residents to better understand the potential depth and frequency of flooding in a given area, identify areas where flood flow velocities could rise to dangerous levels and identify areas where mobility may be significantly impacted by flooding.

As the project progresses, more interactive information and functionality will be added to the website. 

In 2021, when the Flood Control District submits the maps and models to FEMA for review, Harris County residents will be able to enter their addresses on the www.MAAPnext.org to learn about their individual flood risks.

Since its inception in 1937, the Flood Control District has continually worked to better understand flood risk throughout the county. 

This project represents a transformative step in the management and regulation of Harris County’s floodplains. 

Recent advancements in hydrologic and hydraulic modeling software and methodologies will allow the Flood Control District to identify and evaluate flood risks in greater detail than was previously possible. 

These advancements will allow the Flood Control District to understand and map flooding related to bayous, creeks and other natural drainage patterns. Additionally, the Flood Control District will be able to identify and map flooding in streets and neighborhoods on a county-wide level.

This information came from Diane Howe, Risk MAP Lead – Risk Analysis Branch, FEMA Region 6.

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