Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. And you don't need to live on the coast to be at risk. Flash floods, inland flooding, and seasonal storms affect every region of the country, severely damaging homes and businesses. Anywhere it can rain, it can flood. The following are important steps to protect yourself and your property in the event of a flood -
- Check before you buy. Before you commit yourself to buying property, ask your real estate agent or local planning office if the property is in a floodplain.
- Insure your property for flood hazard. Homeowners insurance usually does not include coverage for a flood. One of the best protection measures for a building with a flood problem is a flood insurance policy under the National Flood Insurance Program, which can be purchased through any licensed property insurance agent. Typically, there's a 30-day waiting period from date of purchase before your policy goes into effect.
- Know Your Flood Hazard. It is important to know if your property is subject to flooding. You can check on Special Flood Hazard Areas in your neighborhood by looking at the Flood Insurance Rate Maps at FEMA's Map Service Center: http://msc.fema.gov
- Build responsibly. The City of Bristol regulates construction and development in the floodplain to ensure that buildings will be protected from flood damage. Always check with the City Codes Enforcement Division on permit requirements before you build. Codes Enforcement may be reached by calling 423-989-5748.
- Protect yourself and family. Turn around, don't drown! Do not walk or drive through flowing water of flooded areas. Stay away from power lines and electrical wires.
- Protect your property from flood hazards. There are many ways to prepare and protect your home from flood hazards - have your electricity turned off by the power company, complete a home inventory to expedite the processing of insurance claims after a flood, be alert for gas leaks.
- Protect the environment. Don't pour pollutants down storm drains and keep debris and trash out of streams and ditches.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
History & Funding
For decades, the national response to flood disasters was simply to provide disaster relief to flood victims. Efforts were also made to install flood-control constructions such as dams, levees, and seawalls.
Funded by citizen tax dollars, this approach failed to reduce losses. It also didn't provide a way to cover the damage costs of all flood victims. To compound the problem, the public generally couldn't buy flood coverage from insurance companies, because private insurance companies see floods as too costly to insure.
In the face of mounting flood losses and escalating costs of disaster relief to U.S. taxpayers, Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968. The goals of the program are to reduce future flood damage through floodplain management, and to provide people with flood insurance.
More than 35 years later, the NFIP continues to offer flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners, provided their communities use the NFIP's strategies for reducing flood risk.
Community participation in the NFIP is voluntary, although some states require NFIP partnership as part of their floodplain management programs.
The City of Bristol Tennessee participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. Bristol also currently has a Community Rating of a Class 8, which should qualify flood insurance policies within the city for a 10% discount.
Here's how "flood" is defined by the National Flood Insurance Program: A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of 2 or more acres of normally dry land area or of 2 or more properties (at least 1 of which is the policyholder's property) from:
- Overflow of inland or tidal waters
- Unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source
- Collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of water as a result of erosion or undermining caused by waves or currents of water exceeding anticipated cyclical levels that result in a flood as defined above
So, in plain English, a flood is an excess of water (or mud) on land that's normally dry.
How Flooding Occurs
Floods often happen when bodies of water overflow or tides rise due to heavy rainfall or thawing snow. But you don't have to live near water to be at risk of flooding. A flash flood, which can strike anywhere without warning, occurs when a large volume of rain falls within a short time.
More and more buildings, roads and parking lots are being built where forests and meadows used to be, which decreases the land's natural ability to absorb water. Coupled with changing weather patterns, this construction has made recent floods more severe and increased everyone's chance of being flooded.
Dangerous or damaging floods don't always mean dramatic, rushing waters through the streets of your hometown. Just a single inch of water can cause costly damage to your home! Keep this in mind when you're considering flood insurance.
Floods happen in all 50 states: on coasts, on mountains, along rivers, in the desert, in towns and cities of every size. Floods happen. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from financial loss is to have flood insurance. Floods can also pose life-threatening risks to you and your family. So be smart. Read about being Flood Smart. Be prepared for anything nature sends your way. Find out what to do before a flood, during a flood and after a flood.
Flood Zones are land areas identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Each flood zone describes that land area in terms of its risk of flooding. Everyone lives in a flood zone – it's just a question of whether you live in a low, moderate or high risk area.
Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)
Land areas that are at high risk for flooding are called Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), or floodplains. These areas are indicated on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). A home located within an SFHA has a 26% chance of suffering flood damage during the term of a 30-year mortgage.
High Risk Areas
In communities that participate in the NFIP, mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply to all A zones.
Areas with a 1% annual chance of flooding and a 26% chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage. Because detailed analyses are not performed for such areas; no depths or base flood elevations are shown within these zones.
River or stream flood hazard areas, and areas with a 1% or greater chance of shallow flooding each year, usually in the form of sheet flow, with an average depth ranging from 1 to 3 feet. These areas have a 26% chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage. Average flood depths derived from detailed analyses are shown within these zones.
Zone AE & A1-A30
Areas with a 1% annual chance of flooding and a 26% chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage. In most instances, base flood elevations derived from detailed analyses are shown at selected intervals within these zones.
Areas with a temporarily increased flood risk due to the building or restoration of a flood control system (such as a levee or a dam). Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements will apply, but rates will not exceed the rates for unnumbered A zones if the structure is built or restored in compliance with Zone AR floodplain management regulations.
Areas with a 1% annual chance of shallow flooding, usually in the form of a pond, with an average depth ranging from 1 to 3 feet. These areas have a 26% chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage. Base flood elevations derived from detailed analyses are shown at selected intervals within these zones.
Areas with a 1% annual chance of flooding that will be protected by a Federal flood control system where construction has reached specified legal requirements. No depths or base flood elevations are shown within these zones.
Non-Special Flood Hazard Area (NSFHA)
A Non-Special Flood Hazard Area (NSFHA) is an area that is in a low- to moderate-risk flood zone (Zones B, C, X Pre- and Post-FIRM). An NSFHA is not in any immediate danger from flooding caused by overflowing rivers or hard rains.
However, it's important to note that structures within an NSFHA are still at risk. In fact, one out of four floods occurs in a NSFHA! Check out the statistics and get the facts before you decide that your property is not at risk.
Moderate to Low Risk Areas
In communities that participate in the NFIP, flood insurance is available to all property owners and renters with moderate to low risk.
Zones B, C, & X
Areas outside the 1-percent annual chance floodplain, areas of 1% annual chance sheet flow flooding where average depths are less than 1 foot, areas of 1% annual chance stream flooding where the contributing drainage area is less than 1 square mile, or areas protected from the 1% annual chance flood by levees. No Base Flood Elevations or depths are shown within this zone. Insurance purchase is not required in these zones.
Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM)
A FIRM is a map created by the NFIP for floodplain management and insurance purposes. Digital versions of these maps are called DFIRMs.
A FIRM will generally show a community's base flood elevations, flood zones, and floodplain boundaries. As a property owner/renter, you can use this map to get a reliable indication of what flood zone you're in. However, maps are constantly being updated due to changes in geography, construction and mitigation activities, and meteorological events. Therefore, for a truly accurate determination, check with the resources described below in the section "How do I find out what my risk is?".
How do I find out what my risk is?
To view the most recent FIRMs available for the Bristol area to determine which zone your property may be located in, visit the Bristol Public Library's Main Branch for maps and resources about flooding. You may also visit the Community Development Department in the Easley Municipal Annex Building located at 104 8th Street to view FIRMs with a city planner. You may contact the Community Development Department at 423-989-5514 or 423-989-5515.
Flood Insurance – What & Why?
Flood insurance covers losses to your property caused by flooding. From structural and mechanical damage to flood debris cleanup and floor surfaces (like tile and carpeting), your investment is protected by a flood insurance policy, something that your homeowners policy does not offer.
In addition, you can purchase separate coverage that insures most of your personal property and belongings up to a specified limit, including:
- Area rugs and draperies
- Air conditioners
- Books, home electronics, computers
- Clothes washers and dryers
- Decorative items, lamps and lighting fixtures
- Food freezers and the food in them
- Furniture, housewares, bedding
- Portable microwave ovens
Having flood insurance gives you many benefits. Not only is coverage there when you need it, but it also:
- Compensates for all covered losses
- Compensates for flood damages even if federal disaster aid is unavailable
- Pays for your covered losses, unlike interest-bearing loans through federal disaster assistance
- Comes in low-cost policies for those who qualify
- Guarantees compensation for flood damages because the Federal government backs NFIP flood insurance
- Helps you move on – if your property is damaged by flood, your agent is there to help you handle your claim (Note: most claims are paid within 30 to 60 days)
Help Maintain Our Drainage Systems
An important way for citizens to help reduce flooding is to aid in the maintenance of our drainage systems. Do not put anything in the ditches of pipes. Keep ditches clean of leaves,k branches or other debris that can wash downstream and block up the system.
Protect Natural Floodplain Functions
Floodplains play a valuable role in providing natural and beneficial functions to the area. Floodplains that are relatively undisturbed, or have been restored to a nearly natural state, provide a wide range of benefits to both human and natural systems. These benefits provide aesthetic pleasure as well as function to provide active processes such as filtering nutrients. Several of our floodplain areas are used for recreational purposes such as greenways and parks along the stream (Steele Creek Park, for example). Natural and beneficial functions include:
- Provide flood water storage and conveyance
- Filter nutrients and impurities from runoff
- Provide open space for aesthetic pleasure
- Maintain bio-diversity and the integrity of ecosystem
- Contain historic and archaeological sites that provide opportunities for study
- Provide natural flood and erosion control and reduce flood velocities and peaks
- Create and enhance waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife habitats and provide breeding and feeding grounds.
- Avoiding Flood Damage (PDF)
- City of Bristol Flood Plain Districts Ordinance (PDF)
- Engineering Principles and Practices for Retrofitting Flood-Prone Residential Structures (PDF)
- Flood Insurance Basics (PDF)
- Homeowners Guide to Retrofitting - 6 Ways to Protect Your Home From Flooding (PDF)
- Information on Past Floods in the City of Bristol (PDF)
- What to ask your Flood Insurance Agent (PDF)