Guidelines and Standards for Flood Risk Analysis and Mapping

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains guidelines and standards to support the Risk MAP program. These guidelines and standards define the specific implementation of the statutory and regulatory requirements for NFIP flood risk analysis and mapping, and address the performance of flood risk projects, processing of letters of map change and related Risk MAP activities. The guidelines and standards are organized in a hierarchy.

Program Standards PyramidProgram Standards – A required element of the Risk MAP program. Exceptions to program standards can only be granted by program leadership through an exemption process.

Working Standards – A required element usually at a higher level of specificity than the program standards. Working standards are applied by specialists (engineers, planners, technicians, scientists, etc.) and have minimal ethical, political and legal impacts to the program. FEMA Regional offices may occasionally grant exceptions to these requirements.

Guidance – A recommended approach to meet the standard. Accepted approaches are not limited to this recommended approach; mapping partners may use other methods to meet or exceed the standards.

Best Practices/Lessons Learned – Any method, in addition to guidance, that meets or exceeds the standard. Best practices are shared by regions and mapping partners following successful approaches to program activities.

All the standards for the Risk MAP program have been published as a FEMA policy. This policy supersedes all of the standards included in the previous Guidelines And Specifications For Flood Hazard Mapping Partners and associated procedure memorandums. However, useful guidance is still available in these documents.

Guidelines and Standards Transformation

In 2011, FEMA undertook a multi-year project to improve the way guidelines and standards are published, maintained and used. The final product of the first phase of work is the Policy for Flood Risk Analysis and Mapping, which comprises the standards for practitioners of the Risk MAP program.
The Policy for Flood Risk Analysis and Mapping outlines FEMA’s requirements to produce better overall consistency and more efficient operation of mapping activities. In the past, FEMA published guidelines and standards in single documents comprising a document library. In the new policy, standards are published separately from guidance.  The vast majority of these standards are ones that are already in place and existing, extracted from the existing guidelines and standards documents into standalone statements. At the high level, this transformation does not change the way the program operates. However, for practitioners working on Flood Risk Projects, there are a number of standards that are new or significantly changed.

The Policy for Flood Risk Analysis and Mapping represents the vision of the transformation processes and has set the stage for future updates and revisions. The new policy also includes mapping elements from the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW12).  Many of the substantial reforms in BW12 are required to be implemented in coordination with the new Technical Mapping Advisory Council (TMAC). The development and implementation of these additional changes will happen over the next several years as the TMAC makes its recommendations to FEMA.

Over the next year, FEMA will work to complete the guidelines and standards transformation by revising and transforming guidance. Until the transformation is complete, practitioners may refer to a one-page document titled “Instructions for Using Interim Guidance.”

FEMA also conducted a public review of the draft standards earlier this year. A summary of the comments and associated responses is published in the Public Review Summary. A maintenance process has been put in place to update the guidelines and standards on a regular basis. The first update to the guidelines and standards is planned for April 2014. 

FEMA Guidance

Guidance documents provide best practices for FEMA’s Risk MAP program. These guidance documents are intended to support current FEMA standards and facilitate effective and efficient implementation of the program. All guidance documents were written to support FEMA standards, but nothing presented in this document is considered mandatory. Alternate approaches that comply with standards that support program objectives are also acceptable.

FEMA is in the process of updating existing guidance over the next year.  In the meantime, practitioners may refer to historical documents for assistance.  There is a one-page document titled “Instructions for Using Interim Guidance” which provides guidelines on how to do this.

Technical References

Technical References are specifications of a technical nature essential to the success of the program but too granular to be considered standards. These are database, product and documentation requirements where consistency is needed.  There are a number of standards that mandate compliance with the Technical References.

Document Control Procedures Manual

The FEMA Document Control Procedures Manual (Manual) is to be used in conjunction with the Guidelines. The Manual provides guidance to FEMA, mapping partner and contractor staff for:

  • Processing of standard and non-standard documents used in FEMA-contracted studies/restudies.
  • Community-initiated map revisions.
  • Conditional and final map revisions based on conditions other than fill.
  • Conditional and final map revisions based on fill.
  • Conditional and final map amendments.
  • Letter of determination review and special conversions.

The Manual also provides procedures and sample documents for use in tracking community compliance and documenting a community's entry into NFIP. The Manual is a living document and FEMA encourages interested parties to submit ideas for improving the Manual. Please see How to Submit Comments and Suggestions.

Diary of Revisions

When FEMA updates and re-issues standards or guidance, detailed Summaries of Changes are provided at the beginning of each affected section or subsection. A general list of changes made to components of the guidelines and standards also is provided in a Diary of Revisions.

Guidelines and Standards Archives

Mapping projects can take a number of years to complete. Therefore, ongoing projects may conform to prior versions of the guidelines and standards. In addition, older products were produced using older versions of the guidelines and standards. FEMA is maintaining a Guidelines and Standards Archive that will contain superseded versions of the guidelines and standards for reference.

How to Submit Comments and Suggestions

You may submit written comments and suggestions to FEMA electronically by sending an e-mail message to

For More Information

For more information or additional assistance:


Last Updated: 
09/24/2013 - 17:22