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Elevation Certificates: The Way to Determine Actuarial Flood Risk
Eric Simmons, Senior Engineer, FEMA Region IX
An Elevation Certificate (EC) is an official document that records building information, and as such is an important tool to document the structure’s elevation and base flood elevation. Communities maintain this elevation information for new buildings and substantial improvements in all Special Flood Hazard Areas, i.e., SFHAs or flood zones with the letter ‘A’ or ‘V.’ However, an EC may not be available for older (pre-FIRM) buildings.
Pre-FIRM Building: Structure constructed before publications of the community’s Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) located in flood insurance zones A1-30, AE, AH, AO, AR, A, V1-30, VE, and V (Special Flood Hazard Areas).
An insurance agent uses the information on an EC to rate a flood insurance policy. If you do not have a copy of an EC for your building, first ask your community’s floodplain administrator if she or he has a copy, or if the structure’s elevation information is on file.  If the elevation information or EC is not available, you will need to hire a State-licensed surveyor, architect or engineer to obtain an EC.
As a result of legislation changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, titled the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, an EC is now needed for most buildings located in a Special Flood Hazard Area.  Policyholders moving directly to actuarial rates due to a new purchase are required to obtain an EC. If an EC is not available when the flood policy is written, the policy can use a tentative rate for one year, however, this can prove expensive. If a flood loss occurs during the year, the policy must be rewritten using the full actuarial rates based on a required EC before a claim can be paid.
Starting October 1, 2013, federal legislation mandated that a new owner of a pre-FIRM property located in a Special Flood Hazard Area can no longer receive subsidized flood insurance rates.  Instead, the new owner must pay a fully actuarial rate, and this rate is based on building elevations documented on an EC. As a result, interest in ECs and the demand for a surveyor, architect or engineer to complete ECs for building owners has recently increased.
Similarly, maintaining flood insurance coverage is important because letting an insurance policy lapse can prove costly. That’s because a lapsed flood insurance policy for a pre-FIRM building in a Special Flood Hazard Area now requires that the policy must be renewed using the full actuarial rate based on an EC. When fully implemented, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 phases out subsidized rates, supports risk mitigation through the adoption of higher standards, and promotes mitigation action to build stronger and safer communities.
Additional information is found at Guidance for local floodplain management officials can be found in FEMA Publication 467-1.

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