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

Why is FEMA updating the flood hazard information on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for my community? 

FIRMs are developed for communities who have chosen to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.  Congress requires FEMA to update the nation's FIRMs periodically so they remain current and accurately reflect local flood hazards.  Flood risk can change over time. Natural changes in stream channels, beach erosion, and man-made changes, such as development and construction of bridges or sea walls, may decrease or increase the likelihood of flooding in a given area. Additionally, many FIRMs in the region were developed in the late 1970s and the 1980s – there have been great advancements in the methodologies, technologies, and information available to identify and map flood hazards since that time. The New York/New Jersey coast is one of the most highly populated and developed coastlines in the nation, with a great amount of development having occurred since the area was last mapped. The coastal flood study underway will use the most current and accepted methods for modeling storm surge and coastal flood hazards available. 

What is the flood hazard information on the FIRMs used for?
The flood zone designations and Base Flood Elevations shown on FIRMs are used to determine flood insurance rates and requirements. Communities also use the FIRMs to manage development and to make other floodplain management decisions. More precise, up-to-date flood hazard information can also help property owners make decisions on steps they can take to protect their families, neighbors, and property from flooding.

Who is responsible for developing the coastal flood study and the new FIRMs?
This coastal flood study is a shared effort among FEMA, its mapping partners, including the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with input and participation by state agencies, the area's coastal counties and their communities. 

Were the effects of Sandy taken into account when developing the preliminary FIRMs?

The preliminary FIRMs reflect the results of FEMA’s updated coastal flood study for New Jersey and New York coastal communities. Like every storm event, Sandy was unique and did not produce uniform results in every community. Because no storm affects all areas in the same way, FEMA does not take into consideration the effects of a specific storm to produce flood hazard information. Rather, FEMA’s engineering studies develop a long-term projection of flood hazards based on data such as the results of a storm surge analysis, overland wave modeling and storm-induced erosion analyses. 

Will the preliminary FIRMs affect flood insurance rates? 

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 community officials, can be used to rate flood insurance policies or require the purchase of flood insurance.

When will the preliminary FIRMs be issued? 

Preliminary FIRMs for New York City and Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, 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 through 2014.

Will I be able to view the preliminary FIRM?
Yes. Once complete, the preliminary FIRM information will be available both online through the View Preliminary FIRM Data page and the What is My BFE?  address lookup tool, in addition to your community’s local map repository (often, the planning or zoning office).  Preliminary FIRM information can also be viewed and downloaded through FEMA’s Map Service Center, the official online source of preliminary and effective FIRMs.  Online tutorials are available from FEMA which provide assistance in reading and using both the FIRM and FIS Report.   

Preliminary FIRMs are now available for New York City and Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem Counties, New Jersey.  Preliminary FIRMs for other communities in the region will be issued on a rolling basis from late 2013 through 2014.

What happens after the preliminary FIRMs are issued?
Shortly after the issuance of the preliminary FIRMs, FEMA and its partners will host Resilience Meetings where community officials will have a first opportunity to review the preliminary FIRM and additional flood risk tools.  Additional meetings will follow, including the CCO meeting with community officials and separate public open house meetings where the general public and other interested parties may ask questions about the preliminary FIRMs, the flood hazard mapping process, mitigating flood risk, and the National Flood Insurance Program. 

Once the affected communities receive the preliminary FIRMs and a public notice has been provided, a statutory 90-day appeal period will begin. During this time FEMA will accept scientific and technical information from interested parties submitted through community officials that may help better define local conditions and flood hazards. Following the end of the appeal period, and the resolution of any appeals, FEMA will finalize the maps and initiate a 6-month compliance period before formal map adoption. After this 6-month period, the updated FIRMs will be considered effective and will become the basis for flood insurance requirements, insurance premiums, and local building regulations. It typically takes 18 to 24 months from release of the preliminary FIRM to the final effective date. The final FIRM will be available at your community’s local map repository and online through FEMA’s Map Service Center

Will I have the opportunity to comment on the preliminary FIRM before it becomes effective?
Yes. Shortly after the preliminary FIRMs are issued, a series of meetings will be held by FEMA to explain the changes to the FIRM, answer questions, and obtain feedback from community officials and the public. The times and dates of all meetings will be posted on the project calendar of this website

A 90-day appeal period will also be provided, during which the community and others may appeal the proposed flood hazard information by submitting scientific or technical data that proves the flood hazard information is shown in error on the preliminary FIRM. Comments on other aspects of the FIRM such as road and corporate limit changes will also be accepted at that time. For additional information on the appeal period, visit FEMA’s Flood Hazard Determinations webpage

When will the preliminary FIRMs become effective?
On average, a FIRM becomes effective anywhere from 18 to 24 months after the preliminary FIRM has been released.

What do the flood zone designations on FIRMs mean?
Zones with low and moderate risk are labeled B, C, X, or an X with shading. High-risk zones, or Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), are labeled A, AE, AO, or AH. SFHAs have at least a one percent chance of flooding every year, and flood insurance is mandatory for properties secured by a Federally insured loan located within it, as shown on the effective FIRM. Coastal high hazard areas (Zones V or VE) are SFHAs where computed wave heights are 3 feet or more; these areas are subject to more stringent building requirements and different flood insurance rates than other zones shown on the FIRM because these areas are exposed to a higher level of risk than other SFHAs. More detailed descriptions of all FEMA flood zones can be found on FEMA’s Flood Zones webpage.
How can I get the current effective FIRM for my community?
You can view and download a copy of the current effective FIRM for your community through the FEMA Map Service Center. Your local Community Map Repository, which is usually in 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 FIRM and the most recent flood hazard data currently available from FEMA, such as the ABFE, preliminary work map, or preliminary FIRM information.
Who should I talk to if I have questions about the FIRM update process?
For general questions about the National Flood Insurance Program and flood hazard mapping, the FEMA Map Information eXchange is available to assist you by phone toll-free at 1.877.FEMA.MAP or through e-mail or Live Chat serviceFor questions about the coastal flood study underway for New Jersey and New York, or about other information on this website, contact us using our online form.