The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently completed a Flood Insurance Study (FIS) report, which will bring about changes to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for Virginia Beach. FIRMs establish Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), flood risk zones and flood elevations. This data is used to set flood insurance rates, identify where flood insurance is required as a condition of a federally insured mortgage, and for floodplain management and building regulations. The last time the FIRM for our area was updated was 2009. Since then, technology has improved dramatically and has enabled FEMA to more accurately define the boundaries of flood zones in our city. Overall, changes to the Virginia Beach FIRM will result in a slight decrease in the number of structures located in high-risk flood hazard areas (from 18,897 to 18,204 - or 693 fewer structures).The majority of changes from one flood zone designation to another, and the resulting change to owners’ insurance ratings, are concentrated in the following areas:• Chesapeake Beach/Shore Drive (structures in high-risk zones have decreased by 605)• Eastern Branch of Elizabeth River (structures in high-risk zones have increased by 903)There are no significant changes along the Oceanfront or in the Stumpy Lake watershed area. The Sandbridge Beach area will see a net reduction of 152 structures. Flood zones designated as A, AE and VE are considered high risk zones. These are areas with a one percent annual chance of flooding and a 26 percent chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage.FEMA has provided an interactive, online tool that enables you to see your current and new preliminary flood hazard zone. Help using the map is available at VBgov.com/maps.FEMA has established a 90-day comment/appeal period for Virginia Beach’s preliminary flood maps. This 90-day period began Feb. 5 and will run through May 5, 2014.An appeal is a formal objection to proposed base flood elevations or flood depths, Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) boundaries and zones, or floodways. Appeals must be based on technical data that show proposed maps to be scientifically incorrect. Anyone who makes an appeal must include the method, data and analysis used to support the claim. A comment is an objection to a base map feature change such as labels, incorrect roads, jurisdictional boundaries or any other non-appealable change.Comments and appeals should be submitted to Rebecca Lear, the city’s local floodplain administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments and appeals will be forwarded to FEMA. Once all comments and appeals are resolved, FEMA will provide the final effective date for the new flood maps.Property owners who are affected by the changes to the flood maps will receive a letter from Virginia Beach Public Works Engineering sometime in May, which will notify them how they are affected and what action, if any, they need to take. For additional information, visit VBgov.com/flood.