Preliminary Work Maps:  Frequently Asked Questions

FEMA is in the process of releasing preliminary work maps showing coastal flood hazard data in certain communities in New Jersey and New York.  The preliminary work maps are an interim product created in the process of developing preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). This information will replace the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps that were made available to certain impacted communities for Sandy rebuilding and recovery efforts as the most recent data available from FEMA. Answers to frequently asked questions about the preliminary work maps are provided below.

What are preliminary work maps?

The preliminary work maps created for certain New Jersey/New York communities are an interim product created by FEMA in the development of preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). The preliminary work maps reflect the results of an ongoing coastal flood hazard study for the New York/New Jersey coast. This information will replace the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps that were prepared for some communities for rebuilding and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Sandy as the most recent data available from FEMA. 

The preliminary work maps are intended to help communities and property owners understand current flood risk and likely flood insurance requirements in the future. The release of this information will also provide local officials an opportunity to review and comment on areas in their community where they believe risks are inappropriately mapped (understated or overstated). By identifying concerns early in the map development process, FEMA can avoid delays and costly revisions to the preliminary FIRMs following their release. 

What is the release schedule for the preliminary work maps?

The preliminary work maps are scheduled for release to the public beginning in June 2013 and will be delivered on a rolling community/county basis in the coming months. The preliminary work maps, including user guides and other learning resources will be made available online through the View FEMA Flood Hazard Data page of this website. Property owners can also easily look up flood zone and Base Flood Elevation (BFE) information for their property using the “What is my BFE?” address lookup tool.

Where can I view the preliminary work maps and how can I find my property on the maps?

Once released, the preliminary work maps, including user guides and other learning resources, will be made available through this website on the View FEMA Flood Hazard Data page. Property owners and community officials can easily look up flood zone and Base Flood Elevation (BFE) information for their property using the “What is my BFE?” address lookup tool.

What is the difference between the preliminary work maps and the ABFE maps?

The ABFE maps were based on the partially completed coastal flood study underway when Sandy occurred and were intended to serve as an interim product while the updated coastal flood hazard analyses were completed. The preliminary work maps, which will replace the ABFE maps as the most recent data available from FEMA, are based on the same underlying data as the ABFE maps, but use a more refined analysis of shoreline conditions along the impacted coastal area, including the effects of erosion and wave runup. Information about the coastal modeling techniques used to prepare the preliminary work maps is available on the Coastal Mapping Basics page of this website.

Are the preliminary work maps the same thing as the preliminary FIRM?

No. The preliminary work maps are an interim or “draft” product that FEMA is sharing with communities in advance of the release of the preliminary FIRMs to get early input on the mapping and underlying data.  The preliminary work maps represent the same coastal flood elevation and zone data as the preliminary FIRMs but lack certain map legend, notes, and other details included in FIRM products.

Additionally, for most communities, the preliminary work maps will include coastal flood hazard areas only.  In most communities, the work maps will not show updates to riverine flood hazards which may be occurring and the tie-ins between riverine and coastal flood hazard information.  However, all information for both coastal and non-coastal areas will be included on the preliminary FIRMs once released. 

When will the preliminary FIRMs be issued? 

Preliminary FIRMs for Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington (Atlantic Coast only), Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem Counties, New Jersey, Westchester County, New York, and New York City are now available. Preliminary FIRMs for other communities in the region will be issued on a rolling basis throughout 2014.

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 for preliminary and effective FIRMs.

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

The preliminary work maps 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 overland wave modeling and storm-induced erosion analyses. The preliminary work maps do include the Sandy high-water mark elevations in some areas based on data collected by the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS). These data are shown for informational purposes and are not intended to be used to validate the coastal mapping or the coastal Base Flood Elevations (BFEs).

How should the preliminary work maps be used?

The preliminary work maps are intended to help communities and property owners understand current flood risk and likely flood insurance requirements in the future. 

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) floodplain management regulations do not require communities to use flood hazard data from the ABFE maps, preliminary work maps, or preliminary FIRMs and FIS reports in lieu of using flood hazard data from an existing effective FIRM and FIS report.  Nevertheless, in cases where Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) have increased and/or a more restrictive flood zone has been established on the ABFE maps, preliminary work maps, or preliminary FIRM and FIS report for a particular development site, communities have the responsibility to ensure that new or substantially improved construction are protected and that the health and safety of citizens are also protected.  

While the use of flood hazard information in draft or preliminary form may not be an NFIP requirement as discussed above, the State of New Jersey is using this information as the basis for statewide floodplain development standards.  New York City has adopted similar requirements.  Learn more about these requirements through the State of New Jersey Department of Environment Protection’s Frequently Asked Land Use Permitting Questions page and through New York City’s Press Release regarding Sandy Legislation (Intro 983-A, Int. 990-A, Intro 1085-A, Intro 1089-A, Intro 1096-A, 1099-A).

For more information, visit the Using FEMA Flood Hazard Data page.

Will the preliminary work maps affect flood insurance rates?

The preliminary work maps will not 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.

Will communities be able to provide input on the preliminary work maps?

Yes. Community officials will be invited to attend Flood Risk Review meetings that will be held to review the preliminary work maps. During those meetings they will have an opportunity to review and comment on areas in their community where they believe risks are inappropriately mapped (understated or overstated).

Will communities be required to adopt the preliminary work maps for post-Sandy rebuilding efforts?

Formal adoption of draft or preliminary FEMA flood hazard data products is at the discretion of the affected community or State regulating agency. You may contact your local planning or Code Enforcement Department for more information.

For New Jersey communities with updated flood hazard data, an updated model ordinance  is now available through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP’s) website. NJDEP staff are available to provide further technical assistance to communities in adopting and implementing the preliminary work maps and future map releases.

Do I need to elevate my home to the BFE shown on the preliminary work maps for my property? 

The use of draft or preliminary FEMA flood hazard data products for building and construction is at the discretion of the affected community or State regulating agency. FEMA recommends you consult with your local building department to determine the mandatory elevations and any construction requirements that apply to your home or business.

Are there any grants or funding available to help me repair and/or elevate my home? 

If your property is insured under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you may qualify for Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage.  Policyholders in high-risk areas can receive up to $30,000 to help pay the costs of bringing their home into compliance with their community's floodplain ordinance.  You can only file an ICC claim if your community determines that your home has been substantially or repetitively damaged by a flood.  This determination is made when you apply for a building permit to begin repairing your home.  Substantial damage generally means that repairs will cost 50 percent or more of the building’s pre-damage market value.  More information on ICC coverage is available through FEMA’s ICC webpage.  You may also call your insurance company or agent or the NFIP toll-free number at 1 800-427-4661 for assistance.

Many funding options for New Jersey homeowners are provided through the reNEW Jersey Stronger website.  Options include the New Jersey Home Elevation Program funded by the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (discussed in detail below) which provides reimbursement of up to $30,000 for elevations of existing single family homes in certain counties severely affected by Sandy. Information about how to apply for these programs is also available on the reNEW Jersey Stronger website.

Eligible homeowners who wish to sell their properties damaged by Sandy in tidal areas of New Jersey may take advantage of the Blue Acres Floodplain Acquisition Program, a joint effort of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the State Office of Emergency Management and FEMA.  For more information, including application information, visit the Blue Acres Program homepage.

Both the States of New Jersey and New York have received major disaster declarations and are eligible to apply for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds.  The purpose of HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during recovery from a disaster.  Property Acquisition (or “buy out”) is an eligible activity under the HMGP, as are other hazard mitigation measures such as structure elevation.  To receive HMGP funds to elevate structures, you must build to the best available flood hazard data elevation or the effective BFE, whichever is higher.  More information regarding the HMGP may be found on FEMA’s website.  Contact your local officials to inquire about HMGP opportunities in your community. New Jersey residents may also apply for elevation funding directly through the reNEW Jersey Stronger website and get information about submitting property acquisition requests through the Blue Acres Floodplain Acquisitions Program page.

Options are also available for uninsured residents who have experienced property damage related to a presidentially declared disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, including a low-interest rate disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  Renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace clothing, furniture, cars, or appliances damaged or destroyed in the disaster. Homeowners may apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence to its pre-disaster condition.  These loans may not be used to upgrade homes or make additions unless required by their local building authority. Loans may be increased by up to 20 percent of the total amount of disaster damage to real estate, as verified by SBA, to make improvements that lessen the risk of property damage by future disasters of the same kind. Second homes or vacation properties are not eligible for these loans. However, qualified rental properties may be eligible for assistance under the SBA business loan program.  Anyone with questions about disaster loans can call the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 or visit the SBA's website.

What will happen next in the map update process once the preliminary work maps are released?

Community officials will be invited to attend Flood Risk Review meetings that will be held to review the preliminary work maps. During those meetings they will have an opportunity to review and comment on areas in their community where they believe risks are inappropriately mapped (understated or overstated). 

The preliminary FIRMs will be issued beginning in late 2013 on a rolling community/county basis and will be made available online for viewing through the View Preliminary FIRM Data page.  FEMA will first host meetings with community officials to review the preliminary FIRMs, and separate public open house meetings will then be conducted in coordination with community officials where the general public and other interested parties may view the preliminary FIRMs and ask questions about 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 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.