How To Find Your Home On FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps

FEMA's Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are issued after a flood risk assessment has been completed or updated for a community.  This study is known as a Flood Insurance Study.  The FIRM shows the Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) and insurance risk zones in addition to floodplain boundaries.  The FIRM may also show a delineation of the regulatory floodway.

Once the "insurance risk zone"  (commonly referred to as the flood zone) is determined, actuarial rates, based on these risk zones, are then applied for newly constructed, substantially approved, and substantially damaged buildings.  FEMA uses these rates to determine the insurance rate you will pay for flood insurance.

To view these maps online, go to FEMA's Map Service Center and enter your address (hi-lited area shown here) search for your home.  This will allow you to then select the map that covers your area.  The Flood Maps are somewhat cumbersome to use online. I suggest going through the tutorial on the bottom right of the address search page in order to learn how to maneuver around in this GIS map.

If you are located in the City of Tuscaloosa, you might also check out the Tuscaloosa Interactive GIS maps for more information and a little easier interface. Check the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map box on the left to view the flood zones on this map.

Call Tuscaloosa Land Surveying at (205) 210-4954 or better yet fill out a contact form request if you need help with this process or if you discover you are near a flood zone and need an elevation survey completed.  We are here to help you minimize your flooding risk.

The Basics of Land Surveying

Land Surveying Basics

land surveyingLand Surveying dates back to ancient history. Surveying is used for multiple projects.  A survey is done to establish a specific location of a parcel of land along with its exact acreage.  It is used to ascertain boundaries for defining an area of ownership and tax liability.  It is also used to identify a piece of property by a written legal description or to provide a review of the accuracy of an existing description. This data is of the utmost importance with regard to buying and selling land, and is also used to insure a clean and marketable title.

The Different Kinds of Land Surveying

There are many different kinds of surveys that can be performed. A boundary survey is typically done for undeveloped land. This type of survey measures the actual physical extent of the property in question. Most surveys progress through the basic procedures regardless of the type being done. Any pertinent deeds, contracts, maps or other documents that contain a description of the property’s boundaries are located, studied and interpreted. A determination is made of what the actual property description is deemed to be, along with the locations of any physical evidence of the boundaries. This can be in the form of both natural and man-made monuments or markers that exist in the field. The property is then measured to establish the boundaries, not only using the appropriate existing monuments but with the creation and referencing of new markers where necessary. Measurements are accomplished using a total station and other surveying tools. A total station measures both vertical and horizontal angles, as used in triangulation networks. After these steps are accomplished, the property description and plat are prepared.

How to Interpret Land Surveying results

Interpreting the results of a land survey is not as difficult as it may first seem. For instance, a property plat will usually contain a directional orientation which is typically indicated with an arrow pointing north. It will contain the bearing and distance of each boundary line, the property lines of other properties shown on the plat, and the names of adjacent property owners listed in the areas of their property. Corner monuments, along with the names of any natural monuments (such as “Smith’s Creek”, for example) or a brief description of any unnamed natural monuments (such as the "30-inch pine tree”) are on the plat. There is also a title block containing the property’s location and name of owner, the surveyor’s name, the date the survey was performed, the scale of the plat and any other relevant data.

If you need the services of a land surveyor, ALWAYS be sure that you’re hiring an experienced, certified, and highly competent professional surveyor. You can find out if the surveyor is licensed by visiting the Board of Licensure's website.

Call Tuscaloosa Land Surveying today at (205) 210-4954 or fill out a contact form request for more information concerning your land surveying needs.

What Is A Land Surveyor?

land surveyor

Who is the most famous land surveyor?

In addition to the four ladies pictured above, some very famous people in history have practiced surveying. Three surveyors and another guy are depicted on Mt. Rushmore (Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were all three surveyors, Teddy Roosevelt was not.) Others were Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (Lewis & Clark), Sir George Everest, Charles Mason & Jeremiah Dixon (of the Mason-Dixon Line fame) and author Henry David Thoreau practiced for a time in Concord, Massachusetts.

What is a land surveyor?

A land surveyor is a professional person with the academic qualifications and technical expertise to measure and plot the lengths and directions of boundary lines and the dimensions of any portion of the earth’s surface (including natural and other structures.) That definition is quite a mouthful, but in actuality the field of surveying (geomatics) includes many other facets.

For the home-owner the land surveyor is the person who locates the boundary of your property and the location of your home within that boundary to determine if there are any encroachments by your neighbors onto you or vice versa. Common encroachments are fences, driveways, etc.

These days land surveyors in the United States are regulated and licensed by the various state governments. In Alabama, the Alabama State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors was established in 1935 to protect the public by helping “to safeguard life, health, and property, and to promote the public welfare by providing for the licensing and regulation of persons in the practices of engineering and land surveying. This purpose is achieved through the establishment of minimum qualifications for entry into the professions of engineering and land surveying, through the adoption of rules defining and delineating unlawful or unethical conduct, and through swift and effective discipline for those individuals or entities who violate the applicable laws or rules.”

As of 2007, newly licensed surveyors are required to have a four year degree in surveying or a closely related field and an additional four to eight years of on-the-job training under a licensed surveyor. Licensed Land Surveyors are also required to attend 15 hours of continuing education each year to maintain and update their professional knowledge and skills.

In preparation for a typical lot or mortgage survey of your house, a land surveyor may review tax maps, aerial maps, deeds, subdivision plats, zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations and possibly flood maps. For a typical lot survey the subdivision plat is the most important of these because it gives the exact dimensions of your lot and the relative location of your property corners. The land surveyor uses this to locate and/or re-establish your property corners.

In the field the survey crew will search for your property corners along with some of your neighbors corners if yours can’t be found, measure the distances and angles between all of the points, locate the improvements on your property, including your house, pool, out-buildings, retaining walls, fences, driveways and sidewalks, etc. Other improvements like sanitary sewer mains, storm drainage ways, overhead power lines and the like are located because these might indicate an easement across the property. The plat should show these, but may not in all cases.

Once all of the field information is gathered, the crew chief takes the field notes and prepares a preliminary sketch of the work. This is passed along to a draftsperson who prepares the final drawing for your use. The draftsperson will check all of the maps mentioned earlier to make sure that all building setback lines and easements are shown on the drawing. The surveyed distances and directions are compared to the plat distances and directions also. Any discrepancies or encroachments are shown on the drawing. Your attorney uses the drawing to determine if any other legal work is needed during the closing. The mortgage company or bank uses the survey to insure they are loaning you money on the correct property.

So now, what do you have for your money. You have a drawing which shows your house on your lot. You should have stakes and/or flagging by all of your property corners. Make sure you know where they are located. The actual corner is marked by an iron pin or pipe of some sort. (The type of monument should be shown on your survey drawing.) You might also want to take a look for them at least once a year to make sure they’re still there. (Even animals mark their territory more often than that.)

For more specific information about what type survey you need, please call Tuscaloosa Land Surveying at (205) 210-4954 or fill out a contact form request. Tuscaloosa Land Surveying – we only provide the best land surveyor for your needs.

Flooding From Excessive Rain Downstream From Earth Dams

Rose Hill Dam FailureAn article from the Daily Republic in South Dakota talks about an earthen dam that recently failed there due to a 9-inch rainfall event on July 29th of this year. This rainfall event "overwhelmed its capacity" causing the failure of the earth dam.  There was no report of injury downstream of the dam. This dam was built in 1935, as were a number of them during the Work Programs after the Great Depression.  A Department of Game, Fish and Parks Engineer said that they "were satisfied with the condition of the dam" during inspections in 2007 and again in 2008 and that the dam breach "was caused by an extraordinary natural event and not by any structural weakness in the dam." (Photograph by Laura Wehde/The Daily Republic)

Earth dams are almost too numerous to count around the country. In fact, you probably live a lot closer to one than you might think. A large number of dams were built over 70 years ago and, in many cases, the owners of the dams are different than when they were built. This makes maintenance and inspection of the dams less regular.

FEMA estimates "there are over 80,000 dams in the United States", and that approximately "one third of these pose a 'high' or 'significant' hazard to life and property if failure occurs."

In the countries worst dam failure disaster, the South Fork dam failure in May of 1889 killed over 2200 people (almost half of which were under 20 years old) in the town of  Johnstown, PA.  This is known as the "Johnstown Flood."  A 37-foot high wall of water hit Johnstown, located 9 miles downstream from the dam. The entire city was almost destroyed, including 1600 homes and 280 businesses.

After the failure of the St. Francis Dam in California in March 1928, legislation was enacted in and around California. This, and other later legislation led to life-saving advance warning when the Baldwin Hills dam near Los Angeles, California failed on December 14, 1963. Only 5 individuals were killed because of the advance warning which enabled the evacuation of approximately 16,500.

Even though there have been far less loss of lives in the United States from dam failures since the 1970's, reports that…

there were 132 dam failures and 434 "incidents" between January 2005 and January 2009.

Of course, I should note that the failure of the earthen levees near New Orleans, LA during and after Hurricane Katrina are purported to be responsible for killing more than 1000 people.

The KaLoko Dam on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii failed in March of 2006 killing 7 people. In November of 2008, the developer, James Pflueger, was indicted for manslaughter and reckless endangerment in relation to the dam failure. The county of Kauai and the State of Hawaii paid out over $9 Million in settlement of lawsuits after the failure.

Cause of Dam Failures

Heavy rains cause overtopping, which is by far the most common cause of dam failures. Dam spillways and structures are typically not designed for more than a 1-percent chance (aka 100-year) storm event. When a rain event exceeds this, the water begins to travel outside of the control spillway. This leads to erosion of the soil on the dam from the excessive amount of water traveling over it. It is also possible for overtopping to occur from smaller rain events because of debris blockage of the outlet structure or spillways or because of settlement of the dam crest.

Foundation defects, including settlement and slope instability, cause about 30% of all dam failures.

Seepage or Piping is the cause of another 20% of U.S. dam failures. Piping is the internal erosion caused by seepage under and through the dam. It often occurs around structures such as pipes through the dam and spillways. Seepage can also be caused by animals burrowing in the dam, by roots of trees growing on the dam, and through cracks in the dam.  All earth dams have seepage resulting from water permeating slowly through the dam and its foundation. But this seepage must be controlled or it will progressively erode soil from the embankment or its foundation, resulting in rapid failure of the dam.

What Should You Do To Protect Home?

Since the failure of a dam causes excessive flooding, one of the best courses of action is to avoid building in a flood zone, unless you elevate and reinforce your home. You should investigate and know your risk from flooding or dam failure. Do you live downstream from a dam? Is the dam a high-hazard or significant-hazard potential dam? To find out, contact your state or county emergency management agency and/or visit the National Inventory of Dams. There are around 2,228 dams on the National Inventory in Alabama. Of those, 636 are listed as high or significant hazard potential dams.

If you live downstream from one of these dams, find out who owns the dam and who regulates the dam. This information should also be available from the National Inventory of Dams.

Next, find out if there is an Emergency Action Plan in place. Again, consult your state or county emergency management agency. (Alabama Emergency Management Agency)

Strangely enough, Alabama is the only state in the United States that has not passed dam safety legislation.

If you want help with investigating a piece of property you are considering purchasing or of one you already purchased, please call Tuscaloosa Land Surveying today at (205) 210-4954 or better yet fill out a contact form request.

Estimate The Costs Of Flood Damage To Your Home

The tool below allows you to calculate the costs of flooding. Select a home size that approximates yours and then slide the blue button up or down for the expected depth of flooding.

Call Tuscaloosa Land Surveying TODAY for a free flood risk assessment of your home. We will review the flood maps in your area and advise whether we recommend a flood survey. CALL US TODAY at (205) 210-4954 or fill out a contact form request. We Give You Peace of Mind.