2013-01-04 / In the Know

Important flood insurance information

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

Coastal and inland flooding is Maine’s most frequent natural disaster. It occurs for a variety of reasons including severe coastal storms, heavy rain events, ice jams, or when the snow melt occurs too quickly in the spring for the river systems to handle the runoff.

Recently we have all seen what happens when a hurricane like Sandy hits a coastal community. Widespread devastating flood and storm surge damage causes severe economic impacts on thousands of individuals and families.

Unfortunately, most basic homeowner’s insurance policies provide limited or no coverage for ground water and storm related flooding. That is why the federal government created the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968. The program was created by Congress to mitigate future flood losses nationwide through sound, community-enforced building and zoning ordinances and to provide access to affordable, federally backed flood insurance protection for property owners. The program is designed to provide an insurance alternative to disaster assistance to meet the escalating costs of repairing damage to buildings and their contents caused by floods.

Participation in the flood insurance program is based on an agreement between local communities and the federal government that states that if a community will adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance to reduce future flood risks to new construction in special flood hazard areas, the federal government will make flood insurance available within the community as a financial protection against flood losses. The town of Scarborough participates in this program by virtue of our local zoning ordinances which means our citizens are eligible to participate in the flood insurance program.

As part of the program FEMA produces flood insurance rate maps that delineate both the special hazards and risk premium zones within each participating community. Insurance companies establish their rates for coverage based in part on where the structure is located in relationship to the flood plain identified in these maps. In many cases financial institutions require the mandatory purchase of flood insurance coverage before they will loan money to purchase a property located in or near a flood plain.

If you don’t currently have flood insurance and are thinking of obtaining it you should know that there is a 30-day waiting period before coverage goes into effect. You can’t call your agent and add it when a storm is already heading your way. It is also important for everyone to know that the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 was passed last summer. This federal legislation requires FEMA to eliminate a variety of existing flood insurance subsidies and calls for a number of changes in how the program operates. These changes may have a significant impact on the cost of coverage in the future.

If you live in or near a flood zone it is important to know about your options for this important protection. Even though it is an additional expense, the protection the flood insurance program provides can make the difference between a covered loss and the reality of losing everything like some of the victims of Hurricane Sandy did.

The planning and code enforcement staff can assist you with interpreting the flood plain maps in their office. There is also a wealth of information available on FEMA’s website at www.fema.gov.

Residents can also get information on how these new changes to federal law may impact insurance costs by talking to an insurance agent or carrier.

For more information about this article or any fire department issue, contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730- 4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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