“Everybody’s out of time almost,” said Rod Hall of The Hall Agency, an insurance firm specializing in flood insurance. “It’s a time bomb.”
When a redrawn set of Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps takes effect on March 4, residents living in areas with high risk for flooding will be subject to higher insurance rates. But if they buy flood insurance before then, they could potentially save thousands of dollars a year in policy costs, Hall said.
Under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, buying a flood insurance policy is required for all homeowners living in areas with a high risk of impact from a 100-year flood.
There is a “grandfather rule” that allows homeowners to qualify for lower rates by buying a policy before the new flood maps take effect.
That could mean the difference between paying $300-$400 per year and paying $3,000, Hall said.
“FEMA gave everybody a breathing period where they could get a preferred rate,” Hall said.
Those buying insurance before the property is classified as high-risk can qualify for the so-called “Preferred Risk Policy,” which covers buildings and their contents for a low rate for the first year, according to FEMA. In the third year after renewal, “homeowners would qualify for standard insurance rates for moderate-to-low risk zones, rather than those for high-risk zones.”
Flood Insurance Rate Maps currently covering Cobb County — or the official maps set by FEMA used to set premiums for flood insurance — have been in place since 2008. The old maps predate the September 2009 floods in the Sweetwater Creek basin that ravaged hundreds of homes in the southwest part of the county.
William Higgins, division manager of Cobb’s Stormwater Management, said the map updates were part of a broader effort to update flood plain information across the Atlanta metro area.
All flood plain maps in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District are required to be revised by 2013.
While the maps throughout Cobb County were changed, the primary focus of the updates was on the Chattahoochee River along the eastern edge of the county and Sweetwater Creek in the southwest, both of which impact multiple counties.
A study on Sweetwater Creek had not been completed since 1986, Higgins said. With a number of high-profile storms hitting Cobb County since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005, more specific measurements were taken for the extent of the flood plains.
“The record flood of 2009 changed what was once the 100-year flood plain,” Higgins said. “It rose by an average of about 3 feet.”
That means the areas designated as high risk around the waters feeding into Sweetwater Creek will encompass a larger number of homes.
FEMA conducted the updates for the Chattahoochee River, and Cobb County hired a consultant to study the Sweetwater Creek basin after the 2009 floods as part of an effort to determine which homes qualified for a federal buyout program.
“We were able to make adjustments to reflect what we were observing,” Higgins said.
While many homeowners in the Sweetwater Creek basin will see themselves added to high-risk flood zones, impacts to other areas of the county are less extensive.
“Most of the rest of the streams in Cobb were actually reduced,” Higgins said.
And the flood plain surrounding the Chattahoochee River was relatively unchanged.
Hall said, “West Cobb will have the most changes. The majority to be affected are west of I-75.”
Residents living in high-risk areas for flooding have until March 3 to update their insurance policies to avoid higher prices.
If a property shifts from low-risk to high-risk, the homeowner will be required to purchase flood insurance if they have a mortgage.
“Everybody’s situation is different,” Hall said. “Everybody should get a second opinion from a knowledgeable specialist in flood insurance.”
Flood insurance backed by the federal program can be purchased through insurance agents to cover up to $250,000 for damage to the home and $100,000 for its contents.
Maps with both current and future flood plain outlines are available online at www.georgiadfirm.com/
Residents can also contact Cobb County storm-water management division at (770) 419-6435 for hard copies of maps.
More information about flood insurance is available at floodsmart.gov.