A Stream of Change

February 1, 2007
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The magnitude of flood damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (among others), as well as the sheer number of flood-prone buildings and flood insurance policies across the United States, are indicative of the great importance of floodplain verification.



Water stands in a former residential area located within a floodplain. Photo courtesy of Anita Westervelt/FEMA News Photo.



The main revisions to the first page of the FEMA Elevation Certificate are shown here highlighted in yellow.

The magnitude of flood damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (among others), as well as the sheer number of flood-prone buildings and flood insurance policies across the United States, are indicative of the great importance of floodplain verification. Surveying in or near a floodplain has always been a challenge for surveyors. To provide the best service possible to their clients, surveyors must attempt to keep abreast of the ever-changing federal, state and local regulations that govern these areas. When a building or potential site for construction is located near a stream or other body of water, property owners are always concerned about the location in relation to the floodplain--and, of course, the resulting financial impacts.

The primary source of data to answer their questions can be found on an accurately completed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Elevation Certificate. The Elevation Certificate (EC) was recently revised to include the first major changes since 1999. Although the revised EC has been available since February 2006, its mandatory use began on Jan. 1, 2007. The challenge to surveyors, insurers and local officials is to understand the ins and outs of this powerful form and its potential financial implications.



Purposes of the Elevation Certificate

The EC has three main purposes: to determine flood insurance rates, to officially support the removal of buildings from the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement, and to ensure local building compliance as required for communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.



Many of the changes to the Elevation Certificate occurred in Section A; the new and revised requirements are highlighted here in blue.

Determining Flood Insurance Rates

Flood insurance rates for buildings constructed after the initial Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) becomes effective in a community are generally based on the difference between the lowest floor elevation and the 1 percent annual chance of flood, also commonly referred to as the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), if available at that location. The higher the floor is above the BFE, the lower the flood insurance rates. The EC is the primary source of elevation and other data used by flood insurance providers to accurately determine flood insurance rates. Flood insurance rates for buildings constructed before the initial FIRM became effective in a community are generally not based on this difference between the floor and flood elevations.



Support for Removal of a Building from Flood Insurance Purchase Requirement

Federal law stipulates that flood insurance is required on a mortgage if a lender or financial institution determines that a building is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA, FEMA’s term for floodplain). This determination is usually made by comparing the mapped location of a building to the location of the SFHA on the FIRM. However, this determination may be incorrect because the maps may contain inaccuracies or the land may have been elevated by fill placed after the map was published. In either case, an as-built determination of building elevations by a land surveyor (as required on the EC) can accurately determine if a building (or land area) is actually higher than the BFE, and therefore exempt from the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement. The EC can then be submitted with an application for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) if no fill has been placed, or a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F) if the land has been raised by fill. If FEMA approves a LOMA or LOMR-F for a building, then the mandatory flood insurance purchase requirement may be removed.



Local Building Compliance

In order for federal flood insurance to be available in a community, local officials must ensure that the lowest floor (including basement) of all new or substantially improved buildings is at or above the BFE. FEMA requires that these communities keep records of compliance. The EC is an excellent tool to ensure and record the proper elevation data for buildings constructed in or near a floodplain. In fact, there is a special section on the back of the EC for local officials to include data related to building permits.



The level of flooding from Hurricane Katrina is evident by the yellow water line across the awning and pillars of this house. The homeowner has coverage from the NFIP and is eligible for the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) funding to raise his house above the BFE. Photo courtesy of Robert Kaufmann/FEMA.

2007 Revisions

The EC package consists of the two-page EC form, six pages of instructions, two pages for the attachment of photos, and two pages showing the eight building diagrams. The changes for 2007 rearranged the location of some items to make the form a more clear and useful tool for insurance providers and local officials. Information was added to the instructions to describe the recently added items on the EC, as well as to further clarify some unchanged items. In addition, minor changes were made to the building diagrams to clarify their references to the EC. The changes to the EC form itself may best be described by looking at the revisions in each of the seven sections (A through G).

Section A contains information concerning the building, its location and its owner. The inclusion of the latitude and longitude are no longer voluntary; they are now required and must be accurate to within 66 feet. The source of the horizontal datum is no longer required. At least two photographs must be attached if the EC is being used to obtain flood insurance. The area of the crawl space must be included, as well as the number and area of permanent flood vent openings (the flood vent information was moved up from Section C). The area of an attached garage and associated flood vent openings is now required. And finally, the building diagram number was moved from Section B to Section A.

Section B contains information concerning the FIRM on which the building is located. There are no changes to Section B on the new EC; there are only minor changes to the section’s instructions to include revised phone numbers and website addresses.

Section C contains the building elevation information that the surveyor must provide if the building is located in flood zones with established BFEs. Section C must be completed if the EC is to be used for a LOMA or LOMR-F. Changes include moving the building diagram number and permanent flood vent information to Section A. The term “Benchmark” replaces the term “Elevation Reference Mark,” and the form no longer asks if the Elevation Reference Mark appears on the FIRM. Minor changes were made to the instructions for Section C.

Section D is where the land surveyor (or engineer or architect if authorized by law to certify elevation information) must provide his or her certification information including signature, license number, seal, date and comments. The only change to Section D is the addition of a check box on the front of the EC to indicate if there are any comments included on the back of the form.

Section E, on page 2 of the EC, should be completed if the building is in a zone without a BFE. Flood insurance rates for buildings in these zones are generally based on the difference between the lowest floor and the highest adjacent natural grade at the building. Changes to this section include the addition of a measurement from the floor to the lowest adjacent grade (in addition to the highest adjacent grade). The vertical distance to an attached garage slab was added and the building diagram number is no longer required.

Section F is to be completed by the person certifying the measurements in Section E. No changes were made to Section F.

Section G is where the community official may certify the sections of the EC he (or she) has completed. This section also includes areas for data related to the issuance of local permits. No changes were made to Section G.



A Significant Certificate

In light of the potential impact of natural disasters and flooding on communities, the EC is an important tool that provides accurate, field-surveyed data to supplement data from large-scale floodplain mapping. Surveyors, insurers and local officials must become familiar with the specifics of this form and its potential financial implications in order to fully understand the floodplain impacts on both the country’s buildings and insurance policies.



Sidebar

A Flood of Impact

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in 75,000 flood insurance claims totaling close to $2 billion in insured damage. Nationwide, there are about 10 million households in FEMA floodplains with about half of those holding flood insurance policies. More than 20,000 communities have FEMA floodplain maps and participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The voluntary NFIP is a pre-disaster flood mitigation and insurance protection program designed to reduce the cost of disasters. It makes federally backed flood insurance available to residents and business owners in communities that agree to adopt and adhere to sound flood mitigation measures that guide development in its floodplains. For more information, visit www.fema.gov/business/nfip/ or www.floodsmart.gov.

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