Are You At Risk of Flooding?


If you need an elevation certificate or flood survey for your house, please call USA Surveying & Engineering in Auburn, Alabama at (334) 826-9540 or go to our Contact page and fill out the form there. We will call to discuss your land surveying needs.

“Thanks Keith – this [elevation certificate] helped … a lot – quote went down to $460 – down from $2599.” – Staci Herring, State Farm Insurance Agent

Recently many areas of our state completed the process of updating the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).  These maps show the areas of potential flooding based on the 1-percent chance storm event. This has been known in the past as the 100 year flood and is also known as the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).

When you get the amount of rain comprising the 1-percent storm the flood water will come to a certain elevation near your home, known as the Base Flood Elevation (BFE).  The FIRMs were recently updated for Lee County, including the cities of Auburn and Opelika, Elmore, Tallapoosa and Coosa Counties.

FEMA is required to assess its flood hazard map inventory at least once every 5 years.  But, because of funding shortfalls, it’s been over 15 years for some communities. For those homeowners with a mortgage, purchasing flood insurance is mandatory in a participating community if the loan is federally insured or the lender is regulated by the federal government.  Flood insurance is highly advisable even if you’re not required to purchase but are located near a stream or lake.

flood survey, elevation survey, base flood elevationRemember, the 1-percent chance storm has a 1 percent chance of being met OR EXCEEDED in any year.  Over the life of a 30 year mortgage there is a 26% chance of having a flood event that exceeds the base flood elevation.  Mortgage insurance rates are generally less the higher above the base flood elevation your finished floor is located.  Therefore, if you are four feet above the BFE the rates should be lower than if you were at or below the BFE.  A $300 policy may well be worth the peace of mind it brings.

Your homeowner policy has an exclusion from any flood damage.  You should also know that just because you’re above the BFE and far away from a running stream, many dry ditches have caused significant damage to a home during a flash flood.  Again, your homeowner policy is useless in this case but a flood policy would cover this damage.

“purchasing flood insurance is mandatory…if the loan is federally insured or the lender is regulated by the federal government”

As stated above, your mortgage company may be required to ask you to purchase flood insurance.  Of course, they would want you to do so because they are protected also.  You should also know that the mortgage lender may also require flood insurance even if it is determined you don’t need it. This is their prerogative.

Again, the rates should be rather low in this case, but there are some costs nonetheless. Now that you know a little about the overall situation, how does this affect you directly?  If you are currently shown to be in or near a flood hazard zone, or if you’re going to be in or near a flood hazard on the proposed maps, NOW is the time to act.  The following are the possible situations in which you may find yourself:

  • fema elevation certificateOut of the flood hazard zone completely on the old and new maps.  This is great.  In this case there is no requirement for the purchase of flood insurance.  But, as we said below, if there is ANY risk you might want to consider it. An evaluation of your risk is quick and easy.
  • You’re lot is currently or proposed to be shown in the flood hazard zone. This puts you under the requirement for flood insurance.  Your situation may now be one of the following:
  • Your lot is “in” the flood hazard zone but the lowest adjacent grade (LAG) around your house is “out” or above the base flood elevation (BFE). In this situation, it is possible that the flood insurance requirement may be removed.  This process is called a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA).
  • Your lowest adjacent grade (LAG) is below the BFE but the lowest finished floor elevation (FFE) is above the BFE. In this case you need to purchase flood insurance.  An Elevation Certificate is necessary as a way to determine your premium rate.
  • Your lowest finished floor elevation (FFE) is below the BFE. This case is similar to 2.b. above but the flood risk is higher.  Again, get an elevation certificate to determine your premium rate.

If you’re in situation 2 above, the first step is to get an elevation determination.  This process is done by a licensed land surveyor who will measure the elevation of your finished floor elevation and the lowest adjacent grade to determine your location relative to the flood hazard zone.

This process will produce an Elevation Certificate that can be used to either complete the LOMA process or allow your insurance agent to set the flood insurance premium rate.

For more specific information about the National Flood Insurance Program, see the web at or call USA Surveying & Engineering at (334) 826-9540.

J. Keith Maxwell is a licensed Professional Engineer and Land Surveyor in Alabama. He is also a Certified Floodplain Manager and has consulted in the Auburn area for over 25 years.

Flood Determination

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Definition of Keywords

FEMA – The Federal Emergency Management Agency – – Fema’s mission is to “reduce the loss of life and property and protect the Nation from all hazards, including natural disasters…” One of the ways that FEMA “protects” us and helps to “reduce the loss of life and property” is through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The NFIP enables property owners to purchase insurance protection against losses from flooding.  To establish the insurance rates for each particular home, FEMA identifies flood hazard areas throughout the U.S. by producing Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and Flood Boundary and Floodway Maps (FBFMs).

These maps identify the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)

Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) – The official map of a community on which FEMA has delineated both the special hazard areas and the risk premium zones applicable to the community.

1-percent chance storm event – also known as the 100 year flood, the base flood and the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) – the flood that has a one-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded on the average in any given year.

Base Flood Elevation (BFE) – the water-surface elevation associated with the base flood. The computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood. Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) are shown on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and on the flood profiles.

Participating Community – The community must participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for the property owner to be able to purchase flood insurance.  The local community enters into a partnership with FEMA by applying to participate, adopting a resolution of intent to participate and cooperate with FEMA, and adopting a “floodplain management ordinance” that meets minimum NFIP criteria.

Normally, there is also a local “coordinator” who acts as a liaison between the community and FEMA.  If the community doesn’t participate insurance is not available, disaster assistance is restricted, federal grants or loans are limited, federal mortgage insurance and loan guarantees are limited, among other sanctions.

The community is also tasked with enforcing their floodplain management ordinance.  If they are found to be lacking in enforcement, they can be removed from the program.

Finished Floor or Lowest Floor – The lowest floor of the lowest enclosed area (including basement). An unfinished or flood resistant enclosure, used solely for parking of vehicles, building access or storage in an area other than a basement area is not considered a building’s lowest floor. Communities are required to obtain the elevation of the lowest floor (including basement) of all new and substantially improved structures.

Elevation Certificate – a form developed by FEMA to provide an official record that shows the elevations of buildings in identified Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). This form is also used by the property owner to obtain flood insurance.

Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) – an official amendment, by letter, to an effective NFIP map. A LOMA establishes a property’s location in relation to the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). LOMAs are usually issued because a property has been inadvertently mapped as being in the floodplain, but is actually on natural high ground above the base flood elevation.