Rebuilding After a Coastal Storm

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Raised coastal home

Old Saybrook, Conn., Nov. 26, 2012 -- Properly designed footings, pilings and a flow-through design kept this coastal home safe.

If your home or business was damaged or destroyed by a coastal storm, you face major decisions about your property. Do you repair? Do you rebuild? Do you relocate?

The decisions you make now can help provide a safer, stronger future for you and your family. If you decide to repair or rebuild, here are some points to consider:

  • The risk you faced yesterday might not be the same risk you face today or in the future;

  • By rebuilding using technical guidance from FEMA, you can reduce — or perhaps avoid — future flood loss and reduce the impact on your finances; and

  • The financial consequences of not having flood insurance coverage could be devastating if another flood occurs.

Reduce You Risk, Reduce Your Premium - Know your Base Flood Elevation

A primary way to reduce or avoid future flood losses is to raise your building above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE).

The BFE is the high water mark in a flood having a 1% probability of occurring in any given year.  The BFE is also referred to as the "100-year storm" or the floodplain.  While storms greater than the 1% chance flood can and do occur, the BFE is used as the regulatory requirement for the elevation or floodproofing of structures.  Properties should be built to at least one foot above the BFE.

The relationship between the BFE and a structure's elevation, along with building considerations such as flood vents and elevated utilities, determines the flood insurance premium. 

Find your flood map at FEMA's Map Service Center.

As communities begin to recover from the devastating effects of a coastal storm, it is important to recognize lessons being learned and to employ mitigation actions that ensure structures are rebuilt stronger, safer, and less vulnerable to future flooding events. Following significant disasters, Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs) may be issued.  This more recent risk analysis enables property owners to make informed choices when rebuilding.

ABFEs may reflect a higher flood elevation than the BFE shown on the current regulatory FIRMs. Property and business owners should check with their local building official to fully understand any requirements for using ABFEs in rebuilding efforts.

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Hurricane Sandy Advisory Base Flood Elevations

Prior to Hurricane Sandy, FEMA, as administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), was restudying areas of the New Jersey and New York coastlines to update Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). These updated maps were set to be delivered to state and local officials in mid-2013. Since existing FIRMs for these areas were developed more than 25 years ago, and because updated FIRMs are yet to be finalized, it is vital to provide near-term ABFEs to support reconstruction efforts.

Hurricane Sandy ABFEs containing recommended building elevations are currently available for these New Jersey and New York counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union. To learn more, visit the following FEMA Region II websites:

For additional resources and information on Hurricane Sandy, the FEMA relief effort, disaster assistance, FEMA disaster aid programs and more, visit the FEMA Hurricane Sandy website.

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FEMA Rebuilding Guidance

FEMA Building Science Branch offers a variety of free technical guidance materials and training to assist with reconstruction after a coastal storm event.  This guidance is developed through industry and inter-agency research and collaboration.  For example, FEMA-led inter-agency Mitigation Assessment Teams (MATs) may go into the field after a disaster to analyze how buildings performed in the coastal storm.  The resulting MAT Report includes recommendations that are often adopted in model building codes and incorporated into guidance for better and stronger construction practices.

In some cases, this guidance goes above local building code requirements. Property owners who want to rebuild stronger and safer should select architects and builders/developers who are familiar with FEMA's guidance. 

In many cases, a relatively small up-front investment can result in a big savings down the road in losses avoided.  A selection of FEMA Building Science publications and guidance include:  

Additional resources and information are available on the FEMA Building Science Branch Hurricane Sandy website. For more detailed information regarding builders/developers, please visit the Coastal Resources for Home Builders, Developers, and Construction Professionals webpage.

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Flood Insurance Changes

As risks change, insurance premiums also change to reflect those risks. Your flood insurance premiums may be going up. However, you may be able to reduce your premium if you build your home or business to be safer, higher, and stronger. The Biggert-Waters National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 provided long-term changes to the National Flood Insurance Program. Under the law, rates are likely to increase overall to reflect the true flood risk of your home and many insurance discounts will be eliminated. Policy rates for all properties could increase based on one or all of the following circumstances:

  • Change of ownership

  • Lapse in coverage

  • Change in risk

  • Substantial damage or improvement to a building

Some changes will depend on external factors such as when flood risk maps are revised, buildings are damaged or improved, or when flood claims are filed.  Talk with your community officials and insurance agent to see how these changes could affect you. To learn more about the National Flood Insurance Program or find an insurance agent, visit FloodSmart.gov or call 1-888-229-0437.

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Last Updated: 
04/12/2013 - 16:18