When we buy property, it's not always readily visible whether it could be in a flood plain or zone. Flood insurance may be the first thing required to protect you and your property. But you can also find out whether a property is a flood zone before you buy the property, thanks to specific information provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Use FEMA's flood map store (see Resources) to research and download information about flood plains through FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.
Find "Flood Maps" on the list of menu items on FEMA's flood map store main page. Click there and you'll be taken to a page asking for your state, city and county. Provide this info and you'll be taken to a local Flood Insurance Rate Map, or a FIRM for short.
Watch for a list of flood maps available showing the county you chose. All of these maps will have been created over a period of years and may not all be up to date. The latest ones will be only a year old.
Look at top menu and choose to see your map under "View" with a green circle and magnifying glass icon. Or choose to see the map under "Show LOMC," which stands for Letter of Map Change that includes more recent map amendments.
Select "Buy" at the far right of the menu to purchase what's called a FIRMette, or a downloaded and detailed copy of the map to view on your computer. The download copies are usually around £1.60 as of 2010. CD-ROM copies are also available for £2 as of 2010.
Look for "MapViewer-Web" back on the list of menu items on FEMA's flood map store main page. Click there and you'll get the free MapViewer. There, you can select your exact address to get more generalised maps of local flood zones.
Call your local planning and zoning office and ask about their Community Map Repository. Visit there and they'll allow you to look at tangible maps on file that indicate local flood plains.
Call FEMA at 1-877-336-2627 to get assistance in viewing flood maps.
E-mail FEMA about getting information on how to locate your local Community Map Repository (see Resources). Click your state on the map located on the "Email a Map Specialist" page. You'll get the necessary e-mail address for the FEMA representative in your state.
Watch for the Flood Insurance Study or FIS with the Flood Insurance Rate Map that tells you more concrete information about a flood zone. This involves text and even graphics to give background information on past flooding problems and possible future flooding issues on a piece of land. This will also be included in your downloaded copy of the FIRM map.
A preliminary FIRM map may not provide enough information for you to get flood insurance. Obtaining a current flood zone map from your Community Map Repository will be the only way toward getting a proper assessment.