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FEMA Flood Maps Include Elevation Increase of One to Five Feet on Average

The Advisory Base Flood Elevations published Saturday morning. FEMA hosted a teleconference Friday to explain the motivation behind the reports.

UPDATE: New "Advisory Base Flood Elevations" are now posted to this interactive map. More resources are available on FEMA's ABFE page for New Jersey and New York.

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New maps have been released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Saturday that recommend that residents in flood zones in 10 counties and 194 communities throughout the state consider raising their homes anywhere between one and five feet on average, FEMA officials said Friday.

Rumson last week adopted an ordinance requiring a base height elevation (BHE) in flood zones of 13 feet above sea level. The ordinance specified that the borough's parameter would either stay at the 13 feet or higher if the FEMA recommendation was higher. It is lower.

The maps, part of the agency’s Advisory Base Flood Elevations, are being published online Saturday morning and will likely be used by communities to help establish standards during the rebuilding process following the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.

Although the data used in the storm does not include any relating to Sandy, officials say it best represents the type of flood protection needed during similar storms that have a one percent chance of occurring each year.

Communities and residents that are rebuilding after Sandy are looking for the type of guidance that will lead to stronger, safer, and more resilient buildings going forward, FEMA Risk Analysis Branch Chief Ryan Pietramali said during a Friday afternoon teleconference. This data will provide the first step.  

“(We want to) make sure as they begin their recovery they are making informed decisions based on sound science,” he said.  

The Advisory Base Flood Elevations, or ABFEs, are the result of an analysis of past storms, changing and more detailed topography, and weather’s impacted on 1,800 miles of coastal, tidal zones.

Pietramali said FEMA has been working on establishing new Flood Insurance Rate Maps for both New Jersey and New York for the past two years, though they aren’t expected until next year as a preliminary draft and officially introduced in 2014. The decision to expedite the release of the ABFEs was done to assist in the rebuilding process moving forward.

This type of report has not been reexamined and readjusted in more than 25 years, officials said.

FEMA officials could not say which towns would be most impacted by the new ABFEs, but did indicate that, on average, flood elevation protection has increased about three and a half feet over current Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMs. Some towns would even see their expected flood elevation at more than five feet, though which towns fall into that category were not revealed.

The mapping includes three different zones. B Zones are high hazard zones that would be impacted by ocean waves during a one percent storm, like homes along the ocean. A Zones are also high hazard zones, but would only have expectation of significant damage during one percent chance storms. The final zone is the X Zone, which present moderate hazard.

Towns included in the new mapping, as well as the flood risk assessment and relevant flood data can be found on FEMA’s Region2Coastal Web site in an interactive map beginning Saturday morning. The 10 counties included in the ABFEs are Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union Counties.

Much has changed over the past 25 years in how flood risk can be measured, Pietramali said. The science of how we understand coastal hazards has become more precise and accurate, which allows FEMA to better assess risk. The result, he said he believes, will be communities that are built stronger and safer.

Residents should know, Pietramali said, that insurance premiums are based on effective flood maps, not on the advisory map. Residents who are required to purchase flood insurance will see their rates rise in January, though he said it’s based on expiring federal regulations, and is not specific to New Jersey.

There might be a silver lining for some residents who are rebuilding and required to purchase flood insurance. The advisory maps being released often represent higher elevations than those presented in flood insurance maps. Building at or above advisory rates could help save money when it comes to paying for insurance, he said.

When it comes to raising your house to the new flood elevation levels, homeowners with flood insurance can apply for Increased Cost of Compliance funding, which can provide up to $30,000. Homeowners who suffered flooding from Sandy and don’t have flood insurance aren’t eligible, unfortunately, Bill McDonnell, FEMA’s deputy branch manager for hazard mitigation said. Homeowners can still apply for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

“It’s something you can do, now, that hopefully will offset some of the future costs,” he said.

Official use of ABFEs depends on the town. McDonnell said it's possible that municipalities included in the report could adopt the elevation standards through a new ordinance, though the ABFEs is still just an advisory document. 

Should municipalities adopt the standards, McDonnell said it would allow communities and citizens to take ownership by better understanding the risk and taking effective action to prevent future disaster.

bill wolfe December 19, 2012 at 03:54 PM
The new FEMA maps are not based on the best science and data. They do not consider Sandy storm surge elevations or the effects of sea level risk, climate change, and extreme weather, as mandated under FEMA policy, see: NEW JERSEY YET TO COME TO GRIPS WITH POST-SANDY FLOOD RISKS http://www.wolfenotes.com/2012/12/new-jersey-yet-to-come-to-grips-with-post-sandy-flood-risks/

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