Guidance for Communities in Using 
FEMA's Flood Hazard Data 

Summary of Flood Hazard Data Releases for Coastal New Jersey and New York:   The coastal flood study for New York and New Jersey was initiated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2009.  Hurricane Sandy hit the region on October 29, 2012.  FEMA released Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps based on the partially completed flood study to support community rebuilding efforts starting in December 2012.  Preliminary work maps based on the completed flood study were issued by FEMA starting in the Spring of 2013.  Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) containing the results of the completed flood study in addition to riverine flood hazards in communities were issued starting in late 2013.  Then public meetings to review preliminary FIRMs are held followed by a 90-day appeal period.  The FIRM becomes effective after all appeals are resolved and following a 6-month adoption and compliance period.
FEMA Flood Hazard Data Releases for Coastal NJ/NY
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Before Hurricane Sandy, FEMA had begun a coastal flood study to update Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS) reports for portions of New York and New Jersey using improved methods and data to better reflect coastal flood risk. After Sandy, FEMA released Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps for certain communities based on the partially completed flood study which were designed to help in rebuilding and recovery efforts. FEMA is now in the process of releasing preliminary work maps for certain communities which include the full results of the coastal flood study.  Preliminary FIRMs and FIS reports, which will follow the release of the preliminary work maps for communities receiving those products, are also now in the process of being released.    

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 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.  

It is important to note that for Zone A areas where no BFE has been identified on the effective FIRM, Section 44 CFR 60.3(b)(4) of the NFIP regulations does require communities to obtain and reasonably utilize BFE and floodway data from a Federal, State, or other source.  Learn more about the conditions where this applies in areas designated Zone A and where the use of ABFE maps, preliminary work maps, and Preliminary FIRMs and FIS reports are advisable in FEMA’s Floodplain Management Bulletin 1-98 Use of Flood Insurance Study Data as Available Data (FPM 1-98).

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).

FEMA Flood Hazard Resources
Once released, the preliminary FIRM will replace the preliminary work maps as the most recent flood hazard information available from FEMA. Preliminary FIRM information is now available for certain communities and can be accessed through the View Preliminary FIRM Data page and the What is My BFE? address lookup tool.  In areas where preliminary work map information or preliminary FIRM information has not been released, the ABFE information (if available) will continue to be the flood hazard information communities should consider using.   Both preliminary work map and ABFE information can be accessed through the FEMA Flood Hazard Resources Map

Keep in mind that if your community decides to use ABFEs, preliminary work maps, or the preliminary FIRM and FIS report as the basis of development decisions, it must always compare this flood hazard information to the effective FIRM for a given development site and use the most restrictive flood hazard information.  Also keep in mind that State requirements may be more restrictive. Communities that decide to use flood hazard information provided by FEMA should adopt the information into its floodplain management ordinances.   

Information about the use of FEMA map products for federally funded rebuilding undertaken as part of the Sandy recovery is available through the FEMA Procedure Memo dated April 30, 2013, Revised Guidance for Use of Best Available Data to Implement Federal Flood Risk Reduction Standards for Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  The Best Available Data Archive page contains a running data archive of changes to available flood hazard data as they occur.

Links to in-depth information about the different types of available flood hazard data released by FEMA are provided below.  These documents and many more are also available through the Recovery Toolkit for Property Owners and the Recovery Toolkit for Community Officials.

        Preliminary FIRM Resources
Preliminary Work Map Resources

ABFE Resources

 
Questions or comments?  Call the National Flood Insurance Program Help Center at 1(800) 427-4661 or contact us through our online form today.

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Know Your FEMA Flood Hazard Information Resources!
These documents are the basis of flood insurance requirements and construction and development regulations.
 
Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) Maps
(Currently Available for Certain Communities)
FEMA released ABFE maps for certain communities based on the partially completed flood study which were designed to help in rebuilding and recovery efforts. FEMA encourages communities to reasonably utilize the flood elevation and flood zone information for a specific site, as found on the ABFE maps OR the effective FIRM, whichever is the most restrictive.  The What is My BFE? address lookup tool allows for an easy comparison of effective and revised flood hazard information.

Preliminary Work Maps
(Currently Available for Certain Communities)
FEMA is releasing preliminary work maps for certain communities which include the full results of the coastal flood study.  Communities are encouraged to use the preliminary work maps rather than the ABFE maps (where released) as the most recent coastal flood hazard information available from FEMA. FEMA also encourages communities to reasonably utilize the flood elevation and flood zone information for a specific site, as found on the preliminary work maps OR the effective FIRM, whichever is the most restrictive.  The What is My BFE? address lookup tool allows for an easy comparison of effective and revised flood hazard information.   
(Currently Available for Certain Communities)
FEMA is now releasing preliminary FIRMs which include the full results of the coastal flood study and, where applicable, riverine flood hazards which affect the community.
Preliminary FIRMs will supersede the preliminary work maps (where released) as the most recent and complete flood hazard information from FEMA for that location. FEMA encourages communities to reasonably utilize the flood elevation and flood zone information for a specific site, as found on the preliminary FIRM and FIS report OR the effective FIRM and FIS report, whichever is the most restrictive.  The What is My BFE? address lookup tool allows for an easy comparison of effective and revised flood hazard information.

New Effective FIRM and FIS Report (Not Yet Available)
Once a Letter of Final Determination is issued to a community after the resolution of all appeals to the preliminary FIRM and FIS report, communities are required to adopt and use the FIRM and FIS report to regulate construction and development.  The effective FIRM will also be the basis of flood insurance requirements.