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An online version of the newly released flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency shows sea level rise and evacuation zones in North Pinellas.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration recently announced the release of updated, digital flood hazard maps that show the extent to which areas throughout the county are at risk for flooding.

The new preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map is based on updated coastal modeling and shows flood hazards more accurately than older maps.

The preliminary FIRM is available to residents and businesses on the online Flood Map Information Service found at www.pinellascounty.org/flooding. Property owners in unincorporated Pinellas County can call the Flood Information Services hotline, 727-464-8900, to ask questions and get answers about the new flood map. Property owners within municipal boundaries should call their city.

Over time, flood risks change due to weather events, environmental changes, erosion, land use and other factors. Maps are updated periodically to reflect these changes. Pinellas County’s FIRM has not been updated since 2009.

“Historically, flooding is one of the most costly natural disasters affecting Pinellas County,” said Commission Chairman Ken Welch. “The modernization of outdated flood maps represents an important step toward increasing public safety by better equipping our residents to make decisions about protecting themselves and their properties.”

FIRMs indicate whether properties are in areas of high, moderate or low flood risk. In reviewing the new Pinellas County FIRM, many property owners may find that their risk is higher or lower than they thought. If the risk level for a property changes, so may the requirement to carry flood insurance.

The updated flood map allows property owners to make better financial decisions about protecting themselves and their property. The map also helps community officials, engineers, builders and others make important determinations about where and how new structures and developments should be built, making Pinellas County a safer place to live.

The updated FIRM is still preliminary and has not yet been officially adopted. To ensure that all residents and business owners understand the map change process and are aware of their options, a series of educational and outreach activities will be held. Public meetings will be scheduled in the coming months so that residents can view the new maps, understand how their properties may be affected and learn more about financial steps that they may need to take to protect their investment.

The newly released map is part of a large, multi-year coastal flood risk study effort to better identify, quantify and communicate the coastal flood hazards and associated risks in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, producing updated FIRMs. This effort is being undertaken as part of the FEMA Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning program.

For more information about flooding in Pinellas County and flood insurance, visit www.pinellascounty.org/flooding.