Floodplain – FAQs

Floodplain Management FAQs

  1. How do I obtain or review the flood map for my area?
  2. What is a FIRMette and what is it used for?
  3. If I disagree with my lender’s determination that I am in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), what can I do?
  4. New maps show my home now to be located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA); how does this affect my property and me?
  5. Where can I learn more about purchasing flood insurance?
  6. I have looked at the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for the area of my property and think the map is wrong. How can the map be changed?
  7. How do I obtain a copy of the Elevation Certificate for my property?
  8. Does the City of Birmingham participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and/or the Community Rating System (CRS) Program? If so, how does that affect me?
  9. What type of work requires a floodplain development permit?
  10. What is a flood determination letter and how can I obtain one?
  11. What are some retrofitting techniques that can be used to protect my home or building?

1.  How do I obtain or review the flood map for my area?
  • Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center (MSC) at (https://msc.fema.gov/portal). The FEMA’s MSC is the official public source for flood hazard information produced in support of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The MSC is used to find your official flood map, create a user-defined portion of the flood map (FIRMette), and access a range of other flood hazard products and tools for better understanding flood risk.
  • Visit the City of Birmingham’s Map Repository on the 5th floor of City Hall located at 710 North 20th Street, Birmingham, AL The Map Repository is maintained by the City of Birmingham’s Floodplain Management and Disaster Mitigation Services Staff.
  • Contact Floodplain Management and Disaster Mitigation Services Staff at 205-254-2479 to request a copy of the FIRM map with your property identified. This map can be emailed, faxed or sent via U.S. Mail to the inquirer.
  • Access the City of Birmingham’s online mapping at (http://www.birminghamal.gov/about/eservices/online-mapping/). If you choose this method, accept the initial pop-up disclaimer, locate the find address tab, enter your address, and activate the FEMA flood zone map layer located in the legend under Natural Features.

2. What is a FIRMette and what is it used for?

A FIRMette is a paper copy of a user-defined portion of an effective FIRM, which can be produced and saved electronically. The FIRMette is a full- scale section of a FIRM that can be formatted to print. The FIRMette can be used to help determine the location of a property or structure relative to the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and includes title block, scale and north arrow. FIRMettes are created using FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center website (https://msc.fema.gov/portal).

3.  If I disagree with my lender’s determination that I am in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), what can I do?

Depending on the specific circumstances, you may apply for a Letter of Determination Review (LODR), a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F).

To submit a LOMA or LOMR-F online, visit the Online Letter of Map Change (LOMC) web page at (https://www.fema.gov/change-flood-zone-designation-online-letter-map-change) and begin filing your application request through FEMA’s Online LOMC tool. Upon receiving a completed MT-EZ (for LOMAs) or MT-1 (for LOMR-Fs) application, FEMA reviews property-specific information including surveyed elevation data, which is typically the elevation of the lowest adjacent grade of the structure in question, provided by a Licensed Land Surveyor. Please keep in mind that the property owner may be required to hire a land surveyor to perform this elevation survey, if this data is not readily available. Once an application and all necessary data are received, the final flood zone determination is normally issued by FEMA within 30 – 60 days. If the LOMA or LOMR-F removes the SFHA designation from the property, it can then be presented to the lender as proof that there is no federal flood insurance requirement for the property. However, even though a LOMA or LOMR-F may waive the federal requirement for flood insurance, a lender retains the prerogative to require flood insurance. No fee is charged for the review of a LOMA; however, there is a review fee for a LOMR-F. View FEMA’s Flood Map-Related Fees webpage at (https://www.fema.gov/flood-map-related-fees).

Within 45 days following the date your lender notified you that your property is in the SFHA shown on the FIRM for your community, you and your lender may jointly request that FEMA review your lender’s determination. FEMA’s response to such requests is a LODR. In response to such requests, FEMA reviews the same information your lender used to determine that your structure was located in an SFHA. Unlike with a LOMA or LOMR-F, the elevation of the structure or property relative to the elevation of the 1-percent-annual-chance flood is not considered for a LODR. Just like your lender, FEMA only considers the location of the structure relative to the SFHA boundary shown on the FIRM. FEMA reviews this information and issues its finding of whether the structure is located in the SFHA according to the currently effective FIRM. While this determination cannot consider the elevation of your structure or property, it can be useful if you feel the lender’s interpretation of the FIRM is incorrect.

4.  New maps show my home now to be located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA); how does this affect my property and me?

If a new FIRM becomes effective for your community and your structure is now in an SFHA and you have federally related financing for your property and have not already purchased a flood insurance policy, your lender is required by law to document the flood zone determination and require that you purchase flood insurance. A 30-day waiting period follows the purchase of a flood insurance policy before it goes into effect. There are exceptions to the 30-day waiting period for policies purchased in connection with making, increasing, extending or renewing a loan or certain map changes. If you do not purchase the insurance within 45 days after being informed that flood insurance is required, the lender is required to force-place the insurance and charge you for the cost. To dispute the lender’s determination that your property is located in a flood zone, you and your lender can jointly request a Letter of Determination Review (LODR) from FEMA. This request must be submitted within 45 days of the date your lender informs you that your property is in an SFHA, the area subject to inundation by the base (1-percent-annual-chance) flood.

If an Elevation Certificate has been prepared for your structure, you may want to consider, as an alternative to the LODR, submitting the Elevation Certificate and all other required data, in support of your request.

5.  Where can I learn more about purchasing flood insurance?

For more information on flood insurance, please visit the City’s Floodplain Management and Disaster Mitigation Services Program Staff located on the 5th floor of City Hall, 710 North 20th Street, Birmingham, AL  35203 or call at 205-254-2479.   Many flood insurance related questions may also be answered by visiting www.FloodSmart.gov. You may use the tools under the Insurance Center to determine policy coverage, estimate rates and find an agent in your area.

6.  I have looked at the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for the area of my property and think the map is wrong. How can the map be changed?

Homeowners, community officials and others who have adequate scientific and/or technical data may submit data (including the required MT-2 application forms) to FEMA at any time to support a request for a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) to revise the flood hazard information shown on the effective FIRM. If warranted by the technical or non-technical data or information submitted, FEMA will issue a LOMR to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the community and send a copy to the Floodplain Administrator of the community. LOMRs are generally issued within 90 days of the date all required data, forms and processing fees are received. If the submitted data and information does not warrant a revision to the effective FIRM, FEMA will send a letter to the CEO of the community explaining why the effective FIRM could not be revised and, if appropriate, what action may be taken in the future.  All requests for map revisions, including LOMRs must be submitted through the CEO of the community, because it is the community that must adopt any changes to the FIRM.

7.  How do I obtain a copy of the Elevation Certificate for my property?

The Elevation Certificate is one way for the City to comply with the National Flood Insurance Program’s requirement that the community obtain the elevation of the lowest floor (including basement) of all new and substantially improved structures and maintain a record of such information. The Elevation Certificate is also required to properly rate certain structures for flood insurance premiums.

If an Elevation Certificate has been prepared for your property, you may be able to obtain it from the property developer or from the City’s Floodplain Administrator. Communities often require preparation of Elevation Certificates for properties as part of the permitting process. You can contact Floodplain Management and Disaster Mitigation Services Staff at 205-254-2479 to see if an Elevation Certificate already exists for your property.

Elevation Certificates must be prepared and certified by a Licensed Land Surveyor, Registered Professional Engineer or Registered Architect who is authorized by state or local law to certify elevation information. Community officials who are authorized by local law or ordinance to provide floodplain management information may also sign some sections of the certificate.

8.  Does the City of Birmingham participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and/or the Community Rating System (CRS) Program? If so, how does that affect me?

Yes, the City of Birmingham joined the NFIP on March 16, 1981.  Community participation in the NFIP is voluntary; however, communities that join the NFIP agree to manage flood hazard areas by adopting the minimum regulatory standards of the NFIP. By the City of Birmingham participating in the NFIP, property owners in the City are able to purchase federally backed flood insurance. In addition, federal grants, loans, disaster assistance and federal mortgage insurance are available for the acquisition or construction of structures located in the floodplain shown on the NFIP maps.

Further, in December 1993, the City of Birmingham joined CRS, a voluntary program that involves establishing floodplain management programs that exceed NFIP minimum requirements. In turn, the CRS Program provides reductions to flood insurance premiums for participating communities. These reductions are based on the community’s floodplain management programs, as well as its public information activities. In order to maintain these discounts, the community must continue to implement their outreach programs and provide verification reports to the NFIP each year. Currently, the City of Birmingham is rated a Class 6 Community, resulting in a 20% reduction in flood insurance premiums to citizens of Birmingham. Check with your flood insurance agent to confirm that you are receiving this discount.

9.  What type of work requires a floodplain development permit?

Any development activity within the City of Birmingham, including but not limited to the construction of or improvements to buildings or other structures, utilities, roads, bridges, infrastructure, mining, dredging, filling, grading, paving, excavation, drilling operations, and storage of vehicles, equipment or materials, whether conducted by a private individual, business, or firm, a non-profit agency, or a Federal, State, or local public agency.

10.  What is a flood determination letter and how can I obtain one?

A flood determination letter indicates if a property or structure within the City of Birmingham is located within a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). This letter is usually beneficial to lenders, homeowners, and insurance representatives as a preliminary basis to determine if flood insurance is required. Flood determination letters are issued upon request, currently at no cost, by contacting the City of Birmingham’s Floodplain Management and Disaster Mitigation Service at 205-254-2479.

11.  What are some retrofitting techniques that can be used to protect my home or building?

Retrofitting techniques may include elevating the building to ensure flood waters do not enter or reach damageable areas or livable spaces of the building; constructing barriers made of fill or concrete between the building and anticipated flood waters; dry flood proofing to keep all water out; or wet flood proofing to modify the structure and move contents so that when flood waters enter the building, there is little or no damage.  For more information regarding property protection or the best and acceptable retrofitting techniques for your structure, please contact Floodplain Management and Disaster Mitigation Services Staff at 205-254-2479.