Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs):
Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the FIRM being updated for my community?

Flood risk can change over time. Natural changes in stream channels, beach erosion, and man-made changes like development can decrease or increase the risk. The New York/New Jersey coast is one of the most populated coastlines in the nation, and a large amount of development has happened since most effective FIRMs for the area were produced.

Since that time, there have also been advancements in the methodologies, technologies, and information available to map coastal flood hazards. The coastal flood study underway will use the most current and accepted methods and information available to map coastal flood hazards on the new FIRMs. 

Who is responsible for developing the coastal flood study and the new FIRMs?

The coastal flood study is a shared effort among FEMA; its mapping partners, including the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and state agencies and the area's coastal communities, which provide input throughout the process.

Will the preliminary FIRMs affect flood insurance rates and requirements?

The preliminary FIRMs will not immediately affect flood insurance rates or the requirement to purchase Federal flood insurance. Only the effective FIRM, which has been officially adopted by your community officials, can be used to rate flood insurance policies or require the purchase of flood insurance.

Are the effects of Sandy taken into account on the preliminary FIRMs?

Because no storm affects all areas in the same way, FEMA does not take into account the effects of specific storms like Sandy when producing flood hazard information. Instead, FEMA’s flood studies take into account a long-term projection of flood hazards based on the most current and accepted models, technology, and information available. 

Has a preliminary FIRM been issued yet for my community?

Preliminary FIRMs for Westchester County, New York, New York City and Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington (Atlantic Coast only), Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, and Salem Counties, New Jersey, have been released and are available through the View Preliminary FIRM Data page. Preliminary FIRMs for other communities in the region will be issued on a rolling basis during 2014.

How can I view the preliminary FIRMs?

You can view the preliminary FIRMs online through the View Preliminary FIRM Data page or look up information by address. The maps are also available through your community’s local map repository (often, the planning or zoning office). Preliminary FIRMs and Flood Insurance Study (FIS) reports can also be viewed and downloaded through the Flood Map Service Center, FEMA’s official source for FIRMs. Online tutorials are available from FEMA to help users understand how to read the FIRM and FIS Report.

When will the preliminary FIRMs be finalized?

Typically it takes 18 to 24 months to finalize the preliminary FIRM after it is released, but it can take longer. Learn more about the required steps in the mapping process on the What Happens Next? page.

I don’t agree with the information shown on the preliminary FIRM. How can I provide my comments to FEMA on the maps?

After the preliminary FIRMs are issued, a series of CCO meetings and public open houses will be held by FEMA during which community officials and the public can ask questions and provide their comments about the maps. The times and dates of all meetings will be posted on the project calendar of this website

FEMA also provides a 90-day appeal period for all new or modified flood hazard information on the preliminary FIRM. Interested parties can submit technical information to FEMA that proves the flood hazard information is not correct through the end of this period. Comments on other aspects of the FIRM such as road and corporate limit changes will also be accepted. Learn more on the What Happens Next? pageFEMA Region II’s fact sheet provides information about the process for submitting technical data either before or during the appeal period, including the types of data that should be submitted, and where the data should be submitted to.

What will the flood hazard information on the FIRM be used for once finalized?

An effective FIRM is a map produced for a community participating in the National Flood Insurance Program that has been officially adopted by that community. The flood zones and Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) shown on the FIRM are used to determine flood insurance rates and requirements. Communities also use the FIRMs to manage development and to make other floodplain management decisions.

How can I look up information from my community’s effective FIRM?

You can view the effective FIRM at the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. Your local Community Map Repository (often the planning and zoning office) also has copies of the FIRMs. For specific properties, you can use the What is My BFE? address lookup tool to compare information from the effective and preliminary FIRMs (or most recent flood hazard data available).

Who should I talk to if I have questions about the coastal flood study or the FIRMs?

The FEMA Map Information eXchange is available to assist you by phone toll-free at 1-877-FEMA-MAP (1-877-336-2627) or through e-mail or Live Chat serviceVisit our Contacts page to see a list of contact information organized by topic.

I am rebuilding my house. Should I be using the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) information from the preliminary FIRM or the effective FIRM to determine how high I need to build?

New Jersey residents:  New Jersey law requires the lowest floor of residential buildings to be constructed at least one foot above the updated flood hazard data elevation (i.e., the BFE shown on the preliminary FIRM, if available) or the effective BFE, whichever is higher. However, some communities may require elevating even higher. For new construction or substantially damaged buildings, you should consult with your community’s building officials to determine the elevations and construction requirements which apply.

New York City residents: New York City is also using preliminary FIRM information for floodplain development standards.  Learn about specific City requirements on New York City’s FEMA Flood Map Update page or contact the New York City Department of Buildings.

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