10 Facts that every Unincorporated Chatham County Resident should know  

Chatham County, are you prepared for the next major flood event?

This publication is brought to you by the Chatham County Department of Engineering.

1. Chatham County's Local Flood Hazard: Areas of Chatham County that are located within low-lying coastal plains are susceptible to flooding from rivers and canals. Stormwater runoff is hampered by flat terrain, low elevations and tidal influence. These are major natural factors, common to coastal regions, which cause the County as a whole to be at risk for flooding during long periods of moderate rainfall followed or during high volume, short duration rainfall events. We are subject to flooding from hurricanes, too. Flooding during major storms and hurricanes dates as far back as 1811 and as recent as 2007.

2. What You Can Do To Protect Your Property and Be Safe: Know your flood hazard. Check with the Chatham County Department of Engineering at 652-7800 to find out what flood zone you are in and what the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is for your lot. Note that flood zone determination letters and elevation certificates are submitted upon request at no charge. Requests are to be made in writing and can be faxed to Chatham County at 652-7818 or emailed to floodletters@chathamcounty.org. Please include the property mailing address and Parcel Identification Number (PIN) if you have it. Elevation certificates are available on-line and can be accessed by visiting Engineering.ChathamCounty.org. Check with Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) at 201-4500 to find out about the flood warning system and hurricane evacuation routes. You can also view COMCAST Channel 16 and refer to the phone book to gain additional information including evacuation routes and the location of emergency shelters. There are specific measures you can take too, such as learning how to turn off gas and electricity to your house (and do so) if flooding is imminent. DO NOT attempt to walk, drive, or swim through moving water or flooded areas. Just 6 inches of fast moving water can knock persons off their feet, and less than 2 feet of swiftly moving water can sweep away heavy cars and trucks. Remember: Turn Around Don't Drown! Drowning is the number one cause of flood-related deaths, followed by electrocution. Contact Michael Blakely, the County Floodplain Administrator/Community Rating System Program Manager in the Chatham County Department of Engineering at 124 Bull St., Rm. 430, by calling 652-7814 or via email at mblakely@chathamcounty.org. He can provide you with free publications on how to protect yourself and your dwelling. Additional information can be found at fema.gov, floodsmart.gov, and chathamcounty.org

3. Flood Insurance: Chatham County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). By doing so, local insurance agents can sell a Flood Insurance policy, which is separate from regular property insurance, at subsidized rates set by the Federal Government. The Federal Government passed a law making it mandatory for owners to obtain a Flood Insurance policy if the structure is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and the loan is Federally backed. Flood Insurance can cover the structure alone or cover a combination of the structure and building contents. Renters can buy content's coverage, even if the owner does not have structural coverage. Increase Cost of Compliance (ICC) assists in bringing a non-compliant structure up to the NFIP standards if the building is substantially damaged or repetitively flooded. Preferred Risk Policy flood insurance is also available for structures outside the 100 year floodplain (Zone X). There is normally a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance goes into effect.

YOUR HOMEOWNERS' INSURANCE POLICY DOES NOT PROTECT YOU FROM FLOOD DAMAGE. With Chatham County subscribing to the Community Rating System (CRS) program and having a highly rated management program, business and residences in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) receive a 20% discount on their flood insurance premiums. Unincorporated Chatham County saved 12,136 flood insurance policy holders in the SFHA a total of $2,455,756 on premiums last year, or an average of $202 per policy.

4. Property Protection: In order to protect your property, electrical panel boxes, heat pumps, washers and dryers and water heaters should be elevated or relocated to areas less likely to be subjected to flood waters. Elevate and anchor fuel tanks. Raising the furniture and other valuables on blocks also will offer protection. If you have a basement, take preventive measures from flooding due to sewer backup or sump pump failure by having a back water valve installed. Know what options there are to retrofit your house. Retrofitting means to alter the building to eliminate or reduce flood damage. There are several options to consider: elevation, flood barriers, dry floodproofing, and wet floodproofing. There are several references in the public libraries on retrofitting and additional documents pertaining to floodplain management topics. It's a good idea to keep materials around like sandbags, plywood, lumber, and plastic sheeting. These materials can help minimize the damage caused not only by flood waters, but damage by hurricane force winds too. Staff from the Departments of Engineering and Public Works is prepared to make site visits, upon request, to assist property owners with flooding, drainage and sewer problems, and to address any site-specific flooding concerns within our community. This service is provided at no charge. For additional information on flooding, flood insurance, flood zones, retrofitting, how to pick a contractor, benchmark locations, historical FIRM, or elevation certificates, call Michael Blakely 652-7814 or via email at mblakely@chathamcounty.org. Copies of elevation certificates for buildings in Unincorporated Chatham County can be obtained from Mr. Michael Blakely, and retrofitting suggestions can be obtained by contacting the Chatham County Building Safety and Regulatory Services at 201-4300.

Additional flood protection information can be found on the FEMA Web site by clicking on the following links:

  • Above the Flood: Elevating Your Floodprone House, FEMA-347 (2000)
  • Answers to Questions About the National Flood Insurance Program, F-084 (2011)
  • Coastal Construction Manual, FEMA-P-55 (2011)
  • Elevated Residential Structures, FEMA-54 (1984)
  • Protecting Manufactured Homes from Floods and Other Hazards, FEMA P-85 (2009)
  • Mitigation of Flood and Erosion Damage to Residential Buildings in Coastal Areas, FEMA-257 (1994)
  • Protecting Building Utilities From Flood Damage, FEMA-P-348 (1999)
  • Protecting Floodplain Resources, FEMA-268 (1996)
  • Reducing Damage from Localized Flooding, FEMA 511 (2005)
  • 5. Natural and Beneficial Functions of Flood Plains: Natural floodplains include marsh areas and low lying areas along canals. Open parks such as Henderson and Wilmington Island Golf Courses also have natural floodplains. Natural floodplains reduce damage by allowing flood waters to spread out over large areas, aiding absorption into the ground, reducing flow rates and acting as a flood storage area to reduce downstream peaks. We must all do our part to keep floodplain and floodplain waters free of contaminants such as oil, paint, anti-freeze and pesticides. These chemicals pollute the marsh waters, decreasing the water quality that local wildlife depend upon. Local barrier islands, such as Little Tybee, Ossabaw, Cabbage and Wassaw Islands, serve as a natural protective barrier to incoming hurricane forces such as wave attack, and reduce tidal and wind energies. These islands are natural aquatic habitats, wetlands, marshes and estuaries.

    6. Flood Warning System: In Chatham County, CEMA manages the flood warning system. Once CEMA receives a potential dangerous warning, sirens are activated. The sirens can give as little as fifteen minutes warning time. When you hear the sirens, information can be heard on the television or on the radio at WCHY (94.1) for what to do. Information can be heard on the NOAA weather radio broadcast at frequency 162.40. Local evacuation routes can be found in the phone book. River gage data can be obtained by clicking on the following three web links:

  • Ogeechee River
  • Savannah River
  • Tide at Ft. Pulaski
  • For additional information, contact CEMA at 201-4500 or visit the website at chathamemergency.org.

    7. Permit Requirements: Chatham County's Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance (FDPO) require that all construction, additions, conversions and/or development located in areas of special flood hazard comply with certain minimum standards intended to minimize damage from floods. For example, houses and certain other structures are required to be built one foot above the 100 year base flood elevation (BFE). The FDPO also requires building permits be obtained from the Chatham County Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services prior to construction. The FDPO and the County Stormwwater Management Ordinances have restrictions on the placement of fill in areas of special flood hazard. Chatham County's Land Disturbing Activities Ordinance (LDA) requires permits for certain land disturbing activities and requires soil erosion control--best management practices for construction even if an LDA permit is not required. To obtain a building permit, contact your building official. The Chatham County Department of Building Safety and Regulatory Services are located at 1117 Eisenhower Dr., Savannah, GA and can be reached by calling 201-4300. If you see someone working without a building permit or if you have any other questions or concerns about permits, please do not hesitate to call the number listed above.

    8. Substantial Improvement Requirements: Any substantially improved or substantially damaged home or structure must be brought up to the NFIP and County's FDPO requirements. This is known as the 50% Rule, which states if the lowest finished floor of an existing house is below the base flood elevation (BFE) plus one foot and the cost of repairs or renovations exceed the structure's Fair Market Value by more than 50%, therefore the lowest finished floor elevation must be raised or elevated to at least the BFE plus a one foot free board. In the VE, the bottom of the lowest horizontal member must be brought up to or exceed the BFE plus one foot free board. Also note that additional Chatham County floodplain requirements may apply.

    9. Drainage System Maintenance: Never sweep or blow yard waste into the street or storm water system. This blocks the pipes and prevents water from draining. If your property is adjacent to a drainage ditch, keep the banks clear of brush and debris. Dumping in open ditches and streams is prohibited by Chatham County. To report a violation, please contact the Chatham County Public Works Dept. at 652-6840.

    10. Unincorporated Chatham County Flood Prone Areas: Review the following map to determine if you are in a low, moderate or high flood risk area. Properties located in low and moderate (Flood Zone X and X-500) flood zones are not required by FEMA to carry a flood insurance policy. However, if is recommended that all Chatham County residents have protection from flood damages. Your homeowner's policy does not provide coverage from rising flood waters. Properties located in the high flood risk zone (AE and VE flood zones) are required to carry a flood insurance policy if there is a federally backed mortgage on the property. If you need assistance in making this determination, please contact the Chatham County Department of Engineering at 652-7800. Call this office to see if you are in a flood prone area. You can also review the flood zone map at sagis.org. Chatham County residents should visit engineering.chathamcounty.org for additional information. If you need a Flood Zone Determination Letter, please see #2 above.

    Flood Zone Definitions  

    • 100 Year Flood: As determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a flood event of a magnitude expected to be equaled or exceeded once on the average during any 100-year period.   The term "100-year flood" is misleading. It is not the flood that will occur once every 100 years. Rather, it is the flood elevation that has a 1- percent chance of being equaled or exceeded each year. Thus, the 100-year flood could occur more than once in a relatively short period of time. The 100-year flood, which is the standard used by most Federal and state agencies, is used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as the standard for floodplain management and to determine the need for flood insurance.
    • Base Flood Elevation: The expected flood height measured in feet above mean sea level (NAVD 1988 Datum)
    • Zone A: Flood hazard areas inundated by the 100 Year Flood, no base flood elevations determined.
    • Zone AE: Flood hazard areas inundated by the 100 Year Flood, with base flood elevations determined.
    • Zone VE: Areas of coastal flooding with velocity hazard (wave action), base flood elevations have been determined.
    • Zone B, C & X: Areas determined to be outside the 100 year flood plain.

    Flood Zone Determination Requests  

    Online: Submit your Flood Determination Request Online

    Mail or FAX: Download the Flood Zone Determination Request Form
    Print out the form below to mail, or FAX your request to (912) 652-7818.

    Need help finding your Property Identification Number? Board of Assessors Property Record Cards

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