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Floods, Pt. 3: Finding and Reading a Flood Map

For the last two months, we’ve talked about floods, the nature of different types of floods, and flood insurance programs that homeowners and businesses can use to mitigate the expense of repairing flood damage.

This month, we’re going to take a look at floods from a different perspective: a birds-eye view. When flood insurers, developers, property owners, and others need to determine the likelihood of a flood in a particular location, they turn to a federal flood map. In this article, we’ll discuss what a flood map is, how to find the map you’re interested in, and some basics of understanding what the different symbols and codes mean.

What Is a Flood Map?

Technically, a flood map is referred to as a “Flood Insurance Rate Map” or FIRM. In the US, flood maps are created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and are available for free on FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center.

Flood maps aggregate data from several different sources in order to show the probability of various degrees of flooding in different areas. As their proper name suggests, they’re most commonly used by insurance companies to determine a property’s flood risk in order to assess flood insurance premiums.

But flood maps can be used for more than just determining insurance premiums. If you’re in the market for a new home for your family or business, you can check out the flood maps for any potential locations to find out if flooding is likely or not. Developers use flood maps to decide where to build and where to avoid. Civil engineers rely on flood maps to help them determine what areas might be best served by flood control infrastructure.

How Do I Find My Flood Map?

All searches for flood maps start in the same place: the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. You can find it online at

Once you’re there, enter the address of the property you’re looking up in the search field provided. If the location is undeveloped and doesn’t have a street address, you can also search by geographic/GPS coordinates.

You should immediately be taken to the correct flood map for the address in question and can evaluate its flood potential.

How Do I Read My Flood Map?

The main thing you need to be looking for on your map is the presence of a flood zone where the property in question is located. FEMA recognizes several types of flood zones, each of which is denoted by a special alphabetical code and may be defined by a shaded area on the map:

  • Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) are the highest-risk areas on a map and are shaded in blue. The alpha code for an SFHA will always start with “A” or “V.” If a property is located within an SFHA, mortgage holders are required to carry flood insurance, either through the National Flood Insurance Program or with a private carrier.
  • Non-Special Flood Hazard Areas are lower-risk areas but can still experience flooding. These areas can either be shaded orange or unshaded. The alpha code for a non-special flood hazard will always start with “B,” “C,” or “X.” Mortgage holders in these flood zones are not required to carry flood insurance, but National Flood Insurance Program coverage is available to them.
  • Other areas are either very unlikely to flood, or their flood potential has yet to be studied. These areas are unshaded on flood maps and may have a designation starting with the letter “D.” Flood is still possible, but unlikely, within these zones. Mortgage holders may choose to carry private flood insurance but will not be eligible to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Additional Details

Flood maps also contain additional details about the topography and hydrology of an area. For users who are interested in gathering particularly granular information about an area’s flood potential, FEMA also provides access to the National Flood Hazard Layer. This mapping product provides additional information.

For more information about reading the more detailed nuances of a flood map or accessing the highly detailed Flood Hazard Layer, FEMA provides a thorough FAQ at

If a Flood Has Caused Water Damage in Your Home, Contact AfterCare Restoration Right Away to Begin Mitigation and Restoration. We Work With NFIP and Private Carrier Flood Insurers: 215.515.1000

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