County officials are urging residents to purchase insurance policies if their homes have recently been added to newly redrawn flood insurance rate maps.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency worked with Maryland's Department of the Environment to overhaul the statewide maps, which show which homes and businesses are most susceptible to flooding, and thus are generally required to buy flood insurance .
In Howard County, the maps have not changed since 1986. Because of better technology, an additional 360 residences and 130 other structures near rivers and streams will be identified as being at risk of flooding, unless their owners appeal.
"The flood plain itself was always there. The water went where it was going to go," said Howard Saltzman, chief of the county's storm water management division. But, "now we are more accurately trying to predict where it floods. We've improved our prediction on how much will flood."
Residents whose homes are included in the flood insurance rate maps and have mortgages backed by federally insured banks must buy a flood insurance policy. The policy is separate from a basic home insurance policy, though flood insurance can be purchased through the same provider.
"We're not just saying there's a hazard, but you will be required to purchase flood insurance," Saltzman said.
Even for homes within the flood plain that are mortgage-free, he said, officials strongly recommend owners buy flood insurance. And when those homes are sold, the new owners will be required to purchase flood insurance.
Regular home insurance policies do not cover flood damage, Saltzman said, although homeowners may be able to obtain flood policies through their insurance agent.
He said residents should go to the county's website, where they can type in their address and see if the property is in the flood plain. Most, however, should have already received a notice from the county. He urged people whose homes are on the map to obtain flood insurance sooner rather than later.
Many homes could be eligible to be grandfathered into lower rates. "Everybody should at least ask about it," he said.
Saltzman said residents throughout the county could be affected.
"It's not necessarily new homes, but with the flood plain broader, they might be in the proposed flood plain," he said.
The county does not permit new development in flood plains.
"Better, more accurate information and better models used to determine where the flood plain is," he said. They more accurately show how much water, evaluating the width and the pressure. The new maps are also more user-friendly. They are more detailed and show new roads that cross streams, making it easier to view specific areas.
He said even if residents have not received a notice, they should look at the maps — it's possible the house isn't within the new boundaries but a piece of their property could be, which might prompt homeowners to purchase insurance.
Residents can appeal, but, he said, "it's not easy to do." The appeals deadline is Aug. 17. Appeals should be submitted to Saltzman's office, which will file them with FEMA. FEMA expects to finalize the new maps by January and they are scheduled to take effect next July.
At a meeting last week, some residents were upset about having to purchase flood insurance, but he said, being aware of the risks is important.
"If you are at risk, don't you want to know?" he said.
To see if your home will be affected, check out the map at: http://data.howardcountymd.gov/GFloodplain/GFloodplain.asp
More information is available at: http://www.howardcountymd.gov/DFIRM.htm
For more information, contact the county's storm water management department at DoIFlood@HowardCountyMD.gov or 410-313-6444.