National Flood Insurance Program and Loudoun County
Effective floodplain management in a community, such as a county or incorporated town, is dependent on identifying and mapping zones of flood risk. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), is authorized to establish and update flood-risk zone data in communities across the nation. This is accomplished through data collection, engineering analysis, and issuing a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS) for a community. Loudoun County began floodplain management in 1972 and the county joined the NFIP in 1978. The first FIRM for the county was produced in 1978, the first countywide FIRM was created in 1985, and prior to the Pending 2017 FIRM, the most recent countywide FIRM update was in 2001.
Standard homeowner insurance policies may cover water damage from a leaking roof or burst water pipe, but not from floodwater. Especially for property owners near flood prone areas, separate flood insurance policies are needed for protection against flood risks. Because major flood disasters typically affect a large number of property owners that result in very high damage claims and payouts from insurance companies, flood insurance backed by private companies was limited and expensive through most of the last century. Eventually, private insurance companies essentially stopped selling flood insurance because it was unprofitable. After Hurricane Betsy in 1965 caused $1.4 billion in damage, Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, which created the NFIP. This was done to help reduce the high cost of disaster relief to U.S. taxpayers and so that homeowners could purchase affordable, government-backed flood insurance as protection against flood risks.
When the NFIP was created, the availability of flood insurance through the program was set up on a community basis. For the insurance policies to be available to property owners, their community had to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations to help reduce future flood risks. For communities that participate in the NFIP, federally-backed flood insurance is available to homeowners, renters, and business owners as protection against flood loss. Flood insurance is required for all buildings, dwellings, structures, or improvements that are located in the high-risk flood zone and have mortgages from a federally-backed financial institution.
Only the Special Flood Hazard Area is regulated by FEMA through the NFIP and, therefore, is the primary focus of FEMA’s efforts when creating a FIRM and FIS. FEMA’s Special Flood Hazard Area is the land area covered by floodwaters of the “base flood”, which is the flood having a one percent annual recurrence interval, sometimes called the “100-year flood.” The Special Flood Hazard Area is typically limited to drainage areas of 1 square mile or greater; however, it can also include smaller drainage areas.
The boundaries of the Floodplain Overlay District (FOD), as administered under Section 4-1500 of the Revised 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance, are based upon the FIRM and FIS for Loudoun County prepared by FEMA. FEMA recently completed an update to the FIRM and FIS for Loudoun County and it has an effective date of February 17, 2017. The effective FIRM and FIS form the basis for a community’s participation in the NFIP. The unincorporated areas of the county and six of the seven incorporated towns are participating communities in the NFIP. The Town of Hillsboro is not currently a participating community, but has submitted its application to rejoin the NFIP and expects to be accepted in early 2017. To participate in the NFIP, communities must adopt FEMA’s effective FIRM and FIS for their area and meet the floodplain management requirements of the NFIP.