FEMA Flood Map Service Center: FAQs
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
- How do I read a flood map?
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.
- Where can I find flood zone definitions?
For definitions of Flood Zones, visit the Flood Zones webpage on the FEMA website.
- 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. For more information regarding participation in the NFIP, you may visit the Participation in the NFIP web page.
- 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.
- How often does FEMA update flood maps? When is my area going to be next updated?
There are three processes FEMA uses to revise a community's effective flood map. More information on each is available on the Flood Map Revision Processes web page. To learn about the progress of FEMA's active map updates, please visit the Flood Studies Tracker Map: http://arcg.is/0P8mjD.
- When will my preliminary map take effect?
To learn when preliminary flood maps will take effect for your community, please visit the Flood Studies Tracker Map: http://arcg.is/0P8mjD.
- 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. The subscription service enables users to create and manage automated email notifications for when new products are posted to the MSC.
- How does FEMA create flood maps, or Flood Insurance Rate Maps?
To learn the process for creating a FIRM, review the "How is a Flood Map Made?" graphic. The specific methodologies used to analyze a given flood source are described in the Flood Insurance Study report for your community.
- 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 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. To learn how to read a Flood Insurance Study, including how to find the BFE for my property, review the FIS Tutorial fact sheet.
- 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
- I'm having trouble viewing parts of the MSC site. What can I do?
To access all functionality of the MSC, Internet Explorer users should confirm that Compatibility View is not enabled. In addition, users of Internet Explorer 9 and 10 should take the following steps before using the MSC:
- Open Internet Options under the Tools Menu
- Click the Advanced tab
- Scroll down to Security and confirm the following items are checked: "Use TLS 1.1" and "Use TLS 1.2"
- Click OK to exit Internet Options
If you are still having trouble using the MSC, contact a Map Specialist for assistance.
- 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 locationand save or print your map information. For more information about flood maps, please see the following page: Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).
- What are historic, preliminary, and pending flood maps? How do I find these maps?
For information on historic, preliminary, and pending flood maps, please see the "Regulatory Product Status" on the Map Service Center Products and Tools web page found in the navigation to the left. 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.
- How do I locate a Flood Insurance Study report?
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
- How do I locate a Letter of Map Change?
For information on LOMCs and how to apply for one, as well as tutorials and Frequently Asked Questions, visit 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.
- 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.
- What are Flood Risk Products, and how do I locate them?
Flood Risk Products help community officials and the public view and understand the local flood risk. The Search All Products feature can help you find the different types of flood hazard products available for a particular jurisdiction. For more information about Flood Risk Products, including the products that may be available to your community, visit the Risk MAP Flood Risk Products web page.
- 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, floods, and tsunamis. For more information about the Hazus program, visit the Hazus home page. To acquire a copy of Hazus, visit the Hazus download page.
- What does it mean when the Address Search results indicate my area is on a non-printed panel?
A Non-Printed Panel Message is explained on the FAQ web page here. In areas with modernized data, users can still create Print a FIRMette from FEMA's National Flood Hazard Layer.
- 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. Please reference the Studies Tracker Map (http://arcg.is/0P8mjD) or call the FMIX to see if a flood study is underway in your area.
- How do I locate modeling and other backup data used to recreate the maps?
FAQ: Using Our Products
- 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.
- Why can''t I create a FIRMette of the FIRM png or tif file through MSC Address Search as before?
The Address Search now facilitates quick viewing of flood hazard data directly on the results page and also the ability to "Print" a FIRMette from the latest data in areas with modernized data. If you prefer to use the classic FIRMette web tool to create a printable map, copy the FIRM Panel Number from the Address Search results (e.g. 06037C1610F) and use Search All Products to search for the FIRM Panel by "Product ID". The product results list under "Effective Products" / "FIRM Panels" will offer "View" and Download ("DL") options. Use the "View" option to create a classic FIRMette. For more information on how to create FIRMettes, consult the "How to Find Your FIRM and Make a FIRMette" tutorial.Why can I not print the entire flood map on my printer?
- How do I create or print a FIRMette?
Consult the "How to Find Your FIRM and Make a FIRMette" fact sheet.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
FAQ: Flood Insurance
- When does the mandatory purchase requirement apply?
Mandatory purchase of flood insurance is enforced in the situations detailed on the Mandatory Purchase of NFIP Coverage web page.
- How can I obtain flood insurance?
Information on who can and how to buy flood insurance is located on the National Flood Insurance Program web page.
- 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 the NFIP web page.