Flood Hazard Protection
by Jesse Houston, Director of Planning
All property in Ocean City is in a flood hazard area and subject to flooding from the Atlantic Ocean, the coastal bays, and, in some cases, even from heavy rainfall. Because of our location on the coast, minor flooding is not an uncommon occurrence, and major flooding happens occasionally.
Examples of flood events in the recent past include the March, 1962 northeaster, Hurricane Gloria in September, 1985, northeasters in October and November, 1991, the January, 1992 northeaster (which actually may have been a winter hurricane), and the northeasters of February, 1998. In the past few years we have experienced several storms and "near misses" in which hurricanes and tropical storms have passed offshore and caused flooding. You may remember Hurricane Emily in 1993, the northeaster that interrupted Sunfest in 1994, Hurricane Felix in 1995 which was bearing down on Ocean City before veering out to sea, and Hurricane Bertha in July of 1996. All of these storms caused at least minor flooding, and if any of them had been closer to Ocean City, flooding would have been much worse.
Naturally, oceanfront properties have a greater chance of flooding than many other areas. They are also designated on flood maps as being in a "V zone". The "V" designates "velocity", which means these properties are vulnerable to wave velocity that can cause higher flood levels as well as other structural damage. There are also some bayside neighborhoods, including the downtown area and "Little Salisbury" (between 86th and 94th Streets), that often flood as a result of rising bay waters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) places properties in flood zones based on their chance of flooding. Property owners can find the flood hazard designation of their property by contacting the Department of Planning and Community Development at 410-289-8855, or the City Engineer at 410-289-8845. Both offices are located in City Hall.
NATURAL AND BENEFICIAL FUNCTIONS OF FLOODPLAINS
Floodplains in their natural state provide several beneficial functions. They can spread flood waters over a large area, thus reducing the velocity of the water; they act as a buffer between the flood waters and developed areas to reduce potential damage to buildings; they can improve water quality by filtering water before it reaches our underground water supply; and they can provide habitat for flora and fauna.
The primary undeveloped flood plain areas in Ocean City are our beaches and dunes. These features are our first line of defense against flood damage from the ocean. The beach and dune system created by the beach replenishment project in the early 1990s and maintained continually since then provides protection against the 100-year storm. Taking care of our dunes by not walking in them and maintaining the vegetation is essential to retaining their flood protection function.
On the bayside, in addition to the functions described above, wetlands and other open spaces act as sponges, storing flood waters before they reach upland areas. These natural areas are protected by Federal, State, and local regulations.
FLOOD WARNING SYSTEM
Ocean city has developed a flood warning system as part of our Emergency Operations Plan. Since flooding in Ocean City is caused by storms and hurricanes, the warning system is based on the severity and location of the storm.
Several systems are in place to alert the public of a pending flood hazard situation, including the Tri-County Emergency Broadcast System, civil defense alert sirens, the cable television emergency alerting system, direct contact with local radio and television stations, the use of outdoor public and private programmable signs, banner planes, and door to door alerting by emergency personnel.
At various stages of the Flood Warning System, city officials will take prescribed actions and request residents and visitors to take precautions. These precautions range from securing belongings to evacuation, depending on conditions. For everyone's safety, directions from local officials should be heeded immediately.
All residents, property owners and visitors should be concerned about approaching storms and flooding. There are several actions you can take to minimize the damaging effects of flooding. When a HURRICANE WATCH is issued (36 hours in advance of a hurricane), you should:
- Check often for official bulletins on radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio
- Fuel car, check battery, oil and water
- Check mobile home tie-downs
- Moor small craft or move to safe shelter
- Stock up on canned provisions
- Check supplies of special medicines and drugs
- Check batteries for radios and flashlights
- Secure lawn furniture and other loose material outdoors
- Tape, board or shutter windows to prevent shattering
- Wedge sliding glass doors to prevent lifting from tracks.
When a HURRICANE WARNING is issued (24 hours in advance) you should:
- Stay tuned to radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio for official bulletins
- Assemble personal items to take in case of evacuation
IF AN EVACUATION IS ORDERED, DO SO IMMEDIATELY!
- Evacuations are carried out in phases. The first group asked to leave (Phase 1) are mobile home residents and residents of low lying, flood prone areas. The next group (Phase 2) consists of non-residents and vacationers. Phase 3 consists of all remaining persons except emergency personnel. At Phase 4 everyone should evacuate. - Turn off gas and electricity before leaving - Lock your home - Leave during daylight if possible - Evacuation routes are as follows: - From 62nd Street south: Use Rt. 50 Bridge - From 62nd St. north: Use Rt. 90 Bridge - Go home, to an inland area, or to a designated emergency shelter - Do not try to drive through water on the road. Water can be deeper than it appears and water levels can rise quickly. If your car stalls in floodwater, get out quickly and move to higher ground.
Standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover losses due to flooding. Ocean City participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which makes federally backed flood insurance available to all property owners. This insurance is required in many cases, such as when a property is purchased with a federally backed mortgage. Property owners can insure buildings and contents against flood damage, and renters can insure their possessions.
There are over 23,000 flood insurance policies in effect in Ocean City, the most of any place in Maryland, with an insured value of over $1.5 billion. Maximum coverage is $250,000 on residential structures; $100,000 on residential contents; $500,000 on non-residential structures; and $500,000 on non-residential contents. The cost of flood insurance varies with the amount of coverage and the degree of risk. In the case of condominiums, the building itself should carry a flood insurance policy on the structure.
PROPERTY PROTECTION MEASURES
There are many ways to protect your property from flood damage. Obviously, the easiest way is to be sure your new building is constructed to meet or exceed all code requirements. These include requirements for elevation of the building, foundations, venting, etc.
There are also several ways to retrofit existing buildings to increase flood protection:
Elevation - An existing structure can be raised to bring it above the level of flood waters. Virtually any type of home can be elevated, and several types of foundations can be used for the newly elevated structure, depending on the type of flood risk.
Levees - In areas of shallow flooding with low velocity, a levee can be built around the structure to keep flood waters away. A levee is a barrier of compacted soil which is bermed to a height that flood water cannot top. It should be landscaped to deter erosion and maintained to its original design.
Flood walls - A flood wall is similar to a levee, but it is built of materials such as masonry block or reinforced concrete. Its purpose is also to keep floodwater away from the structure.
Closures - Closures involve techniques for protecting gaps that have been left open for daily convenience, such as walks, doors and driveways.
Sealants - Sometimes referred to as "dry flood proofing", sealants can be applied to walls and floors to keep water from penetrating the structure. This method can only be used in areas of shallow flooding (less than 2 or 3 feet) and minimal water velocities.
Utility Protection - Flooding sometimes causes costly damage to utility systems. By elevating furnaces, heat pumps, water heaters, appliances, utility connections, etc., above flood levels, flooding can be avoided. In cases of seepage or very shallow flooding, shields can be built around utilities. Moving utilities to less flood prone locations can also minimize damage.
For more information on property protection, contact the Ocean City Building Official at 410-289-8855. There are publications available in his office regarding this issue.
FLOODPLAIN DEVELOPMENT PERMIT REQUIREMENTS
The Ocean City Code requires that a building permit be obtained for nearly all construction and structural repair work. By reviewing building plans, the city and the property owner can be sure that buildings are constructed to withstand flooding. Permits are also required before any land development (grading, filling, etc.) In the floodplain to ensure that such activities do not increase flooding potential on or around the property.The Code also requires that all "substantial improvements" to buildings in the flood hazard area be treated as new construction. Substantial improvement is defined as improvements which are valued at more than 50 percent of the market value of the structure. When substantial improvement takes place, the entire building must meet all flood protection requirements. This even applies when a building suffers "substantial damage", meaning damage of more than 50 percent of the value. When repairing a substantially damaged building, the entire building must be brought up to code.
Part of the permit process involves the preparation and submission of Elevation Certificates, which provide a record of the elevation of the lowest floor of a structure in relation to predicted flood levels. All elevation certificates are maintained both in paper and computer formats for review by insurance agents, property owners, and any other interested persons.
Information and permits can be obtained from the Department of Planning and Community Development at City Hall (410-289-8855). Illegal floodplain activity can also be reported to that office.
DRAINAGE SYSTEM MAINTENANCE
Ocean City's flat topography and low elevation make drainage a real problem. Anyone driving on Coastal Highway during or after a rain storm can attest to that fact! It is extremely important that our drainage system be kept clear of obstructions and debris. The Town's littering ordinance prohibits anyone from throwing or depositing any trash, garbage, etc., onto any public property, including storm drains, curbs and sewers.
The Public Works Department sweeps the streets almost daily to remove trash that could clog storm sewers. They also inspect and clean storm water catch basins at least twice every year. You can help us keep these systems working properly by reporting violations and clogged drainage ways by calling the Public Works Department at 410-524-7716.
FLOOD PROTECTION ASSISTANCE
Staff of the Department of Planning and Community Development and the Office of the City Engineer are available to assist property owners, residents, insurance agents, developers, and visitors with questions concerning flood protection and flood insurance. We can help with:
* Information on historical flooding so you can relate flood potential to your property.* Site visits to advise owners of appropriate flood protection techniques. * Reviewing retrofitting plans. * Locating property on the flood insurance rate maps to determine flood zones.
* Researching Elevation Certificates for existing buildings to determine their height above flood waters.
You can call us at 410-289-8855 for more information.