Flooding is the most common disaster in Pennsylvania and the United States. While flood insurance does not prevent flooding, it can help with recovery after a flood. Properties in the floodplain, referred to by FEMA as the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), have the highest risk of flooding. More than 20% of flood claims come from areas outside of the floodplain (FloodSmart). Without flood insurance, there is limited assistance the government can provide to help in recovery.
Flood insurance is available to all property owners in communities that are part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), not just those in the SFHA. Property owners with a federally-backed mortgage who live in the floodplain are required to hold flood insurance. Find out if your community is part of the NFIP here, and find if your property is in the SFHA here.
How do I obtain flood insurance?
Flood insurance is available for purchase through insurance brokers or agents who sell NFIP (federal) flood insurance and/or private insurance. The rates of NFIP flood insurance policies, also referred to as write-your-own policies, are determined by FEMA while private flood insurance rates are determined by private underwriters.
Private flood insurance typically insures high-value properties that require greater coverage than the NFIP offers. More information on private vs. NFIP flood insurance can be found in the FAS report Private Flood Insurance and the National Flood Insurance Program (2019).
Ask your insurance agent if they sell NFIP or private flood insurance policies. If they don’t, call the NFIP Referral Call Center for an agent referral: (800) 427-4661 or visit the PA Insurance Commission website. Find more information on FEMA’s website.
What is covered by flood insurance?
To find what is covered by a NFIP Standard Flood Insurance Policy, see FEMA’s guidance or contact your insurance broker. To find what is covered by a private flood insurance policy, contact your insurance broker for details.
Contents are not covered by a typical flood insurance policy and must be added separately. See examples of what is covered by building coverage versus contents coverage on Floodsmart.gov.
My property was damaged in a flood. What do I do now?
If you have a flood insurance policy, you can file a claim with your insurance. If the flood was a state or federally declared disaster, individual assistance may be available through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Individual assistance is available to those affected, even if they do not have flood insurance. Other available financial assistance can include the US Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and hazard mitigation grants to help with future flood mitigation.
See our Emergency Management page
How can municipal officials help reduce the cost of flood insurance in their community?
The Community Rating System (CRS) is a program through FEMA that rewards NFIP communities with sound floodplain management practices by providing reductions to their residents’ flood insurance premiums. See our CRS page for more information.
What is an Elevation Certificate (EC)?
Elevation of a structure is one of the most important factors in determining flood insurance rates. Most structure elevations are determined by finding the nearest elevation measurement to the structure in FEMA’s FIRM and/or the Flood Insurance Study (FIS). These elevations are only estimations, to show the probability of a property’s flood risk, though. Elevation Certificates are the most accurate way to certify the elevation of structures on a property since they are completed by a licensed surveyor for the specific structure(s). The elevations are then compared to the base flood elevation (BFE) for the property to determine the risk of flooding. Insurance premium rates can decrease if the EC proves the elevation of the structure to be higher than the FIRM and FIS depict.
For communities that are enrolled in the CRS, elevation certificates are required for all newly constructed or renovated structures in the floodplain. Some communities have contracts with a professional land surveyor or engineer to provide reduced costs for completing elevation certificates for a group of properties.
History of flood insurance – why are these rules in place?
Flood insurance is a key piece of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Before the NFIP, flood insurance was not widely available to property owners because flooding was too high of a risk for brokers to insure. The National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 created the NFIP and “made federally subsidized flood insurance available to owners of improved real estate or mobile homes located in the special flood hazard areas (SFHA) if their community participates in the NFIP,” (Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, 2012). The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 then required federal financial agencies to prohibit lending institutions from financing federally-backed mortgages on properties located in the SFHA if their community participates in the NFIP unless the property is covered by flood insurance, also known as the mandatory purchase requirement. This essentially meant that all homes in the floodplain with a federally-backed mortgage are required to hold a flood insurance policy.
In 2012, a federal bill was passed called the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. This act increased flood insurance premium rates to reflect the true flooding risk of each property, rather than the previously subsidized rate. This was to make the NFIP more financially stable, since at the time the bill was passed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) owed the US Treasury $20 billion (Georgetown Law Climate Center, 2013). To slow the premium increases of the Biggert-Waters Act, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act in 2014 was passed, requiring gradual flood insurance rate increases instead of immediate ones. Premiums could not increase by more than 18% per year for a residential policyholder or by more than 25% for a business policyholder.
What training do insurance agents have to sell flood insurance?
The Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004, Section 207 requires FEMA to create a minimum training program for insurance agents to sell FEMA flood insurance policies. FEMA works with the Commonwealth to provide this training to insurance agents through free online courses and resources on FEMA’s FloodSmart for NFIP Insurance Agents.
To assist insurance agents and communities, FEMA releases a new NFIP Flood Insurance Manual each October and April. This manual has details for underwriting, renewing, and canceling NFIP flood insurance policies, along with the rate structures for NFIP policies. There is also information on each CRS community and their discounts rates.