This page serves as a reference guide for some of the most common uses of the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. New users of the site will find directions here on how to accomplish various common activities associated with understanding flood risk.

FAQ: General Information

  1. How do I read a flood map?

    The primary feature of flood maps are flood zones, which are geographic areas that FEMA has defined according to varying levels of flood risk and type of flooding. These zones are depicted on the published Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or Flood Hazard Boundary Map (FHBM). For step-by-step instructions on how to read a flood map, you may view the How to Read a Flood Insurance Rate Map Tutorial.

  2. Where can I find flood zone definitions?

    For definitions of Flood Zones, visit the Flood Zones webpage on the FEMA website.

  3. Does my community participate in the National Flood Insurance Program?

    To determine whether a particular community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, you may consult the Community Status Book for a definitive listing.

  4. How do I request a change to my flood zone designation?

    If you believe your property was incorrectly included in a National Flood Insurance Program - identified Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), you may submit an application to FEMA for a formal determination of the property’s location and/or elevation relative to the SFHA. For more information, please see the following page: Change a Flood Zone Designation. If you know you would like to request a Letter of Map Change (LOMC) through the Online LOMC application, you may do so through the following portal: Online Letter of Map Change.

  5. How often does FEMA update flood maps? When is my area going to be next updated?

    Flood zone designations may be established or revised when new and more accurate information becomes available because of a FEMA-funded restudy or because the community makes the information available to FEMA. Several factors influence the frequency with which flood maps may be updated, such as the extent of new development and the completion of flood-control projects.

    To learn when an area is going to be updated, please visit the FloodSmart.gov website where you can search by ZIP Code.

  6. When will my preliminary map take effect?

    To learn when preliminary flood maps will take effect for your community, please visit the FloodSmart.gov website where you can search by ZIP Code.

  7. How can I receive updates for new mapping products published for my community?

    To learn when new mapping products are published to the MSC website for you community, you may sign up for an email subscription service.

  8. How does FEMA create flood maps, or Flood Insurance Rate Maps?

    Floodplain designations are established or revised when new and more accurate information becomes available because of a FEMA-funded restudy or when the community makes the information available to FEMA. Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are developed based on statistical analyses of records of river flow, storm tides, and rainfall, hydrologic and hydraulic analyses, topographic surveys, and information obtained through consultation with the community. A description of the specific methodologies used for a given flood source can be located in the Flood Insurance Study report for your community.

  9. What is a Base Flood Elevation (BFE), and how do I find the BFE for my property?

    The BFE is the computed elevation to which flood waters are anticipated to rise during the base (1-percent-annual-chance) flood event. BFEs, typically rounded to the nearest whole foot, are shown on the flood map for areas where a detailed study has been completed. The BFE can be shown as a number on top of a black wavy line that bisects the floodplain, in parentheses underneath the zone label, or on top of a black straight line that bisects the flood plain. Examples of the two lines with BFE values may be seen below:

    The BFE shown as a number on top of a black wavy line that bisects the floodplain, in parentheses underneath the zone label

    The BFE is the regulatory requirement for the elevation or flood proofing of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure's elevation determines the flood insurance premium. For more specific BFE data, consult the Flood Insurance Study report for a given community.

  10. What is a Coastal Barrier Resources System or Otherwise Protected Area? How can I determine if a property is located in one of these areas?

    The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982, and later amendments, was implemented to minimize loss of human life by discouraging development in high-risk areas, reduce wasteful expenditures of federal resources, and preserve the ecological integrity of areas Congress designates as a Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) and Otherwise Protected Areas (OPAs). These areas are called CBRA zones. The CBRA Acts removed the Federal government from financial involvement associated with building and development in undeveloped portions of designated coastal barriers (including the Great Lakes). The sale of National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance is banned for structures built or substantially improved on or after an Area's designation date.

    Although FEMA includes CBRS and OPAs on flood maps because of their relevance to the sale of flood insurance, the official maps are maintained by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). Additional information regarding CBRA property determinations is provided on the FWS website.

FAQ: Locating Our Products

  1. How do I find the current effective flood map?

    To find the effective Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or Flood Hazard Boundary Map (FHBM) for your area of interest, you may use the Address Search feature. The Address Search allows you to search by specific address or location. For more information about flood maps, please see the following page: Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

  2. How do I find a historic, pending, or preliminary flood map?

    To find a historic, pending, or preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) or Flood Hazard Boundary Map (FHBM) for your area of interest, you may use the Search All Products feature. Search All Products helps you find the different types flood hazard products available for a particular jurisdiction. Historic, pending, and preliminary maps, if available, will be listed in separate sections on the search results page. If more than one map is listed in a given section, you will need to use the Map Index to determine the individual map panel number needed.

    For more information about these different types of maps, please see the Products and Tools page.

  3. How do I locate a Flood Insurance Study report?

    A Flood Insurance Study (FIS) explains the science behind the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). The FIS, also known as a flood elevation study, discusses the engineering methods used to develop the FIRMs. The study contains elevation data tables and flood profiles for studied flooding sources and may be used to determine Base Flood Elevations for some areas. To find the FIS report for your area of interest, you may use the Search All Products feature. Search All Products helps you find the different types flood hazard products available for a particular jurisdiction.

  4. How do I locate a Letter of Map Change?

    Letters of Map Change (LOMC) is a general term used to refer to the several types of revisions and amendments to FEMA flood maps that can be accomplished by letter. Two basic types of LOMCs include Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), Letter of Map Revision (LOMR). More information on LOMCs, tutorials and Frequently Asked Questions can be found on the Change a Flood Zone Designation page.

    To find any LOMCs that have been issued for a particular area of interest or jurisdiction, you may use the Search All Products feature. Please note that LOMCs issued prior to 1997 are not available from the MSC website. You may either submit a request to the FEMA Engineering Library or contact your local community map repository, which is often the local building or planning and zoning office for your community.

  5. What GIS data and services are available for my area of interest?

    You may visit our National Flood Hazard Layer webpage to learn more about our available GIS data and services.

  6. What are Flood Risk Products, and how do I locate them?

    FEMA provides Flood Risk Products to help community officials and the public view and understand their local flood risk. The Flood Risk Products that may be available to your community are a Flood Risk Map (FRM), Flood Risk Report (FRR), or Flood Risk Database (FRD). These products are non-regulatory resources that supplement the flood hazard information produced by the regulatory FIRM, FIS report, and FIRM database products. Both community members and officials are encouraged to use these free resources to help make better informed decisions about preparing for and mitigating flood loss. To find the FIS report for your area of interest, you may use the Search All Products feature. Search All Products helps you find the different types flood hazard products available for a particular jurisdiction. For more information about Flood Risk Products, visit the Risk MAP Flood Risk Products webpage.

  7. What is Hazus, and how do I download it?

    Hazus is a nationally applicable standardized methodology that contains models for estimating potential losses from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. Hazus uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to estimate physical, economic, and social impacts of disasters. It graphically illustrates the limits of identified high-risk locations due to earthquake, hurricane, and floods. For more information about the Hazus program, visit the Hazus home page. To acquire a copy of Hazus, visit the Hazus download page.

  8. What does it mean when the Address Search results indicate my area is on a non-printed panel?

    When the Address Search returns a result that the area is located on a non-printed panel, it means that no physical FIRM panel was printed for the area in question; the area is only shown on the FIRM Index Map for reference. To locate the FIRM Index, please use the Search All Products function. After locating the area in question, you will typically find a footnote along the perimeter of the map to obtain the explanation of why the panel was not printed. FEMA typically uses the non-printed panel designation when the area is entirely located within a single flood zone.

  9. What does it mean when the Address Search results indicate my location is in an "unmapped" area?

    When the Address Search returns a result that the location is in an "unmapped" area, it means that FEMA has not published a flood map for the area in question. Not every area has been mapped by FEMA. You may check FloodSmart.gov to see if your area has a flood study underway or call the FMIX with additional questions.

  10. What are Letters of Map Change (LOMCs), and how to I locate them?

    Letters of Map Change (LOMC) is a general term used to refer to the several types of revisions and amendments to FEMA flood maps that can be accomplished by letter. Two basic types of LOMCs include Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), Letter of Map Revision (LOMR). More information on LOMCs, tutorials, and Frequently Asked Questions can be found on the Change a Flood Zone Designation webpage.

    To find any LOMCs that have been issued for a particular area of interest or jurisdiction, you may use the Search All Products feature. Please note that LOMCs issued prior to 1997 are not available from the MSC website. You may either submit a request to the FEMA Engineering Library or contact your local community map repository, which is often the local building or planning and zoning office for your community.

  11. How do I locate modeling and other backup data used to recreate the maps?

    You can order modeling and other backup from the FEMA Engineering Library using the Flood Insurance Study Data Request Form.

  12. I'm having trouble viewing parts of the site, what can I do?

    To access all functionality of the MSC, Internet Explorer users should confirm Compatibility View is not enabled.

    In addition, users of Internet Explorer 9 and 10 should first take the following steps before using the MSC:

    1. Open Internet Options under the Tools Menu
    2. Click the Advanced tab
    3. Scroll down to Security and confirm the following items are checked: "Use TLS 1.1" and "Use TLS 1.2"
    4. Click OK to exit Internet Options

    If you are still having trouble using the MSC, contact a Map Specialist for assistance.

FAQ: Using Our Products

  1. My computer will not open the flood map I downloaded. How do I view the map?

    Most of our maps are provided downloadable in an image file (.TIFF or .PNG). Some computers may not automatically recognize which program is needed to view the file. For customers with Windows® operating systems, right-click on the saved file and select Open With. You may then choose Windows Photo Viewer from the list of available programs.

  2. Why can I not print the entire flood map on my printer?

    FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are approximately two feet by three feet in size when printed to full-scale. A FIRMette is a full-scale section of a FIRM that you create yourself and is formatted to print on most home/office printers. To learn more about FIRMettes, please see the next question.

  3. How do I create a FIRMette?

    You can create a FIRMette of most effective maps in FEMA’s online inventory using the FIRMette Web tool. To create a FIRMette, you must first find a flood map, and then click the View button associated with that flood map. For detailed instructions on how to create a FIRMette, try our online tutorial. For additional information on FIRMette Web and the more advanced FIRMette Desktop application, please see the Products and Tools Overview page.

    Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps are not final regulatory products and should not be used for the purposing of making flood determinations. Preliminary FIRMs cannot be viewed with the FIRMette tool, nor accessed with the FIRMette€“ Desktop application. Therefore, a FIRMette cannot be created for preliminary maps.

  4. Is there a direct download option available for flood hazard products?

    Yes, a standardized web address (URL) format is available that enables users to view FIRMs or download any available flood hazard products directly without having to navigate through the MSC or complete a search. To learn more about this process, read the Flood Hazard Products Direct Download factsheet.

  5. Can I receive copies of flood mapping products on paper or CD by mail?

    FEMA no longer offers flood hazard mapping products in hard-copy or on disc. All products can be downloaded free-of-charge.

  6. What if I never closed my account with the older MSC Flood Map Store?

    If you believe you have a MSC Flood Map Store balance left over since the MSC transition, please contact a Map Specialist at the FEMA Map Information eXchange (FMIX).

    • 1-(877) FEMA MAP (1-877-336-2627)
    • Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 6:30 pm Eastern Time (ET)
    • Email: FEMAMapSpecialist@riskmapcds.com
    • Try our Live Chat Service, available 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST. Click below to start chatting now.

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FAQ: Flood Insurance

  1. When does the mandatory purchase requirement apply?

    The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 and the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994, as passed by Congress, mandate that federally regulated, supervised, or insurance financial institutions and the Federal Agency lenders require flood insurance for buildings located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) within communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.

    If you believe your property was incorrectly included in a National Flood Insurance Program - identified Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), you may submit an application to FEMA for a formal determination of the property’s location and/or elevation relative to the SFHA. For more information, please see the following page: Change a Flood Zone Designation. If you know you would like to request a Letter of Map Change (LOMC) through the Online LOMC application, you may do so through the following portal: Online Letter of Map Change.

  2. How can I obtain flood insurance?

    Visit the home of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at www.FloodSmart.gov to learn more about your risk and find an agent in your area.

  3. How can I obtain a copy of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Flood Insurance Manual?

    A digital copy of the NFIP Flood Insurance Manual is available online at http://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance-manual. FEMA no longer distributes this publication in paper or CD formats.

    For additional questions about flood insurance or the NFIP, please contact the NFIP Help Center at 1-800-427-4661 or visit www.FloodSmart.gov.