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NFIP and Floodplain Management
Wendy Lathrop, PLS, CFM
Biography and Classes
Wendy Lathrop, president and owner of Cadastral Consulting, is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, and as a Professional Planner in New Jersey. She holds a Master's degree in Environmental Policy, and has been involved in surveying since 1974 in projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. Wendy is also a Certified Floodplain Manager through the Association of State Flood Plain Managers (ASFPM).
A former adjunct instructor at Mercer County College in New Jersey, Wendy has also taught as part of the team for the licensing exam review course at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. She has been teaching seminars for surveyors since 1986 and has been writing articles for surveyors since 1983. Wendy is a contributing editor for "The American Surveyor" magazine, and has four articles included in the American Bar Association's text, Land Surveys: A Guide for Lawyers and Other Professionals. She and Stephen V. Estopinal, PLS, PE recently completed co–authoring a book entitled Professional Surveyors and Real Property Descriptions: Composition, Construction, and Comprehension, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Wendy is on the faculty of GeoLearn, an online provider of continuing education and training for surveyors and other geospatial professionals. Her content in the GeoLearn course catalog currently comprises twelve one-hour courses (1 PDH each) on flood and NFIP issues, and two additional surveying content courses.
Wendy represented the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (now the National Society of Professional Surveyors) on the first Technical Mapping Advisory Council to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the five years of that advisory group's appointment, and presently represents the National Society of Professional Surveyors on the current Technical Mapping Advisory Council. She was a panel member of the National Academy of Public Administration's study of US Geographic Information resources and of the National Research Council's study of flood hazard mapping accuracy. Wendy is a past President of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors and of the National Society of Professional Surveyors, and has served on the Board of Directors for the American Association for Geodetic Surveying.
- Land use, real property issues, title reviews, floodplain management
- Project management, training and education, technical writing
- Expert testimony in surveying, planning, and floodplain management
Other courses can be created upon request.
Applied Ethics I (2 to 4 hours)
We all know that a discussion about “ethics” in general addresses right and wrong behavior, sometimes abstractly philosophical and sometimes brought to earth by practical experiences. In real life, it isn’t always easy to decide between only two answers: right or wrong, yes or no. Most issues are multifaceted, and the best decisions must address multiple aspects simultaneously.
An understanding of “ethics” and “guidelines” and “standards of care” steers us when we confront difficult decisions both in our private lives and our business lives. This program includes several real life examples where choices were not easy and others in which they should have been – but weren’t.
At the conclusion of this program, participants will be able to:
- Distinguish between “lawful” and “ethical”
- Apply the NSPS Creed and Canons to real life experiences
- Formulate sound business practices to fulfill ethical responsibilities
Applied Ethics II (2 to 4 hours)
In Applied Ethics I we explored the general nature of "ethics". Now we expand the conversation to delve more deeply into relationships with clients, with employees, and with our professional colleagues in this business-oriented program. Real life situations and case studies spur discussion and define distinctions between "ethical conduct", "misconduct", and "unlawful activity".
- Fees, pricing, and competition
- Disclosures and confidentiality
- Responsible charge
The Art and Science of the Real Property Description: Situational Awareness (4 hours)
As readers of documents that address every aspect of land – its location, its character, its physical dimensions – surveyors, title examiners, and attorneys must all be intimately familiar with the variety of possible interpretations and misinterpretations. Strange and unusual things happen when language is not clear and the law is therefore misapplied.
Real property boundary descriptions must be clear, concise, and preserve all the evidence pertaining to the location of real property interests. When these documents are missing, incomplete, or ambiguously written, we play a losing game of forensics in locating limited and full ownership interests on, above, or below the earth's surface.
This course examines the real property description in the context of time and custom, illustrated with case law examples of the effects of regional language and surveying practice. Our objective is to improve the documents we write and to better understand existing documents we encounter.
Basements and Crawlspaces: What's the Difference, and Who Cares? (one hour)
The difference between a basement and a crawlspace seems clear by common perception of what each one is. But when it comes to floodplain management, the distinction, while very specific, may not be as easy for some to discern. Whether designing a structure to be constructed in a 1% chance floodplain, completing an Elevation Certificate for insurance or LOMC purposes, or completing paperwork for processing a buyout, the differentiation is critical for achieving the basic objectives of the National Flood Insurance Program. This session is designed to clarify the distinction and underscore its significance. Participants will leave with a better understanding of the various meanings of “lowest floor.”
Basic HTML Coding for the Web (half day or full day)
NOTE: This course requires either a computer lab with computer for each participant plus projection system for instructor, or room with Internet connections (wireless) for participants to access with their own laptops plus projection system for instructor.
Software for creating websites is readily available, but it doesn't always create the site you want or need. Basic knowledge of Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) can get you started with a simple site that you can add to as you develop your web presence. Understanding HTML also enables you to update your own website that someone else designed for you. While one day will not make you an expert, this class is intended to provide enough information to allow participants to practice and experiment confidently on their own. Be prepared to take notes to remember what worked and what didn't as we see live results from our coding practice.
In the half–day version of this hands–on workshop, participants will learn HTML coding basics necessary for web maintenance and simple page creation. Syntax and structure of the coding are essential elements of this course. We will create lists, change fonts, add links, and build a simple table, modifying its format to accommodate text and images.
In the full day version, participants will have more opportunity to experiment with colors, nested tables, and additional exercises in page layout including navigation tools.
Center Stage - A Workshop on Public Speaking and the Tools to Succeed (half day)
In both professional mode and private citizen mode, we are often called upon, sometimes pushed and shoved, to speak in front of a group. Whether calm before a crowd or panicky talking in a meeting of three, knowing what works for us individually is important in helping us appear calm and competent even when that is not how we are feeling, and improves our effectiveness when we are sure of ourselves. During this interactive session, participants will be asked to do just that: participate to experiment with vocal, physical, and visual techniques in a variety of scenarios testing our communications skills, whether for conducting more efficient meetings or discussing a work project with a colleague. We will include organizing thoughts, body language, choosing and using audio-visual aids.
Deeds and Descriptions (a course for Non-Surveyors) (2 to 4 hours)
The real property description is a legal document meant to preserve information about every aspect of real property – its location, its character, its physical dimensions – and the full or limited rights of those acquiring interests in it. The deed in which the description appears contains additional important information about who, what, why, when, and any conditions related to the real property transaction.
Whether addressing full ownership or some lesser interest in land, the hierarchy of evidence guides us in the process of "construing" descriptions that are ambiguous in some form. Specific words and phrases have legal meanings not necessarily recognized by readers and writers of descriptions, and this can add to the confusion.
This course deconstructs deeds and real property descriptions to examine and better understand them and their role in creating and protecting real property interests. Our objective is to better understand the variety of deeds and descriptions we encounter.
- Understand the variety of possible interests held in real property
- Identify the reasons that contents of deeds and descriptions are important
- Learn about the kinds of evidence found in deeds and descriptions
- Distinguish the parts of deeds and descriptions and comprehend their significance to the entire document
- Recognize the significance of language and punctuation in descriptions
Design, Land Use, and Planning in the NFIP (4 to 8 hours)
Flood loss reduction is dependant upon the ability to plan and implement appropriate floodplain management. The National Flood Insurance Program forms the basis of our nation's approach to floodplain management, and it is our responsibility as design professionals to understand the program's three main areas - mapping, regulation, and insurance - in order to protect our clients, our communities, and ourselves.
Clients do not always present the most ideal sites for their proposed development or redevelopment. A variety of public safety and environmental challenges may create additional considerations in the design and planning of any given project, particularly in floodplains.
What conditions should we watch for in locating and designing floodplain development? Where can we find technical guidance to help us better guide our clients toward wiser floodplain development decisions? How can planning and land use decisions affect a community's ability to recover?
This course will address regulatory and technical aspects of the NFIP that guide our practices, clarify the distinction between what is technically possible by design and what is required by insurance, and underscore the need to look at the big picture to achieve sound floodplain management.
Disputes Between Adjoining Landowners (half day)
A half-day session on the ins and outs of boundary disputes between adjoiners and the role the professional surveyor should play in those disputes. Surveyors often find there is more than one opinion as to the location of boundary lines between adjoiners. Disagreements and their legally prescribed resolutions are discussed, including adverse possession, quiet title actions, estoppel, boundary line commissions, and agreements.
Documentation: Self Defense for the Surveying Professional (half day)
We can reduce our risks as professionals by following common sense and sound business practices seasoned with knowledge of the law. Documenting our activities makes both business and legal sense.
Contractual law, rules of evidence, and pertinent statutes are used as examples in this discussion of forms of documentation and the protection they supply us.
Elevation Certificates (half day)
If you are already familiar with the Elevation Certificate, this class will keep you up to date with details of the form, section by section, and any new changes resulting from the newest revisions. If you are new to Elevation Certificates, the class will provide enough information to get you started in completing them. We will point out how the form is to be completed while tying it back to its roots in the National Flood Insurance Program, including discussion of Base Flood Elevations and several sample problems to practice completion of the form under a variety of circumstances.
Participants will learn:
- The various uses of the form and how those uses are reflected in form completion
- Documenting sources of information entered on the form
- Distinctions between various building diagrams, and effects on field work
- Variety of uses of the Elevation Certificate
- Terminology and abbreviations associated with the Elevation Certificate and its uses
- Review of the Elevation Certificate, section by section
- Relevant Technical Bulletins and other guidance
- Sources of Base Flood Elevations in Detailed and Approximate flood zones
- Grandfathering and Advisory Base Flood Elevations: definitions and uses
FEMA Flood Insurance Mapping Issues (half day)
(Note: All floodplain management classes can be customized to your group's needs, and can be expanded to include a full day of introductory and advanced material.)
A four-hour introduction to National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) mapping, taught by a surveyor who is also a certified floodplain manager and has served on both the first and second Technical Mapping Advisory Councils to FEMA. This practical session includes relevant regulations to round out participants' understanding of how maps are created, updated, and adopted.
- Characteristics of different flooding types and zones shown on NFIP mapping
- The origins and evolution of NFIP mapping
- FIRMs, DFIRMs, and RiskMAP products
- How flood risk and hazard mapping is developed and adopted
- Standards for digital mapping
- Letters of Map Amendment and Letters of Map Revision Based on Fill: distinctions and how to submit successful applications
Floodplain Development: Technical Guidance (half day)
(Note: All floodplain management classes can be customized to your group's needs, and can be expanded to include a full day of introductory and advanced material.)
FEMA provides technical assistance and publishes technical bulletins to assist those who develop floodplains. Surveyors should understand the construction guidelines for National Flood Insurance Program compliance, as this helps us serve our clients while assuring we properly complete Elevation Certificates. During this session we will discuss mitigation concepts and review FEMA's views on filling floodplains, "reasonably safe" floodplain construction, flood venting, and erosion hazards. A practical resource guide will be included in the handout.
- NFIP objectives and regulations
- Mitigation and No Adverse Impact
- Technical engineering compliance versus insurance requirements
- Technical Bulletins for design, construction, and siting
- Guidelines and Specifications for Flood Hazard Mapping Partners (and appendices)
- How technical guidance assists in completing the Elevation Certificate
- Coastal erosion, riverine erosion, and uncertain flow paths
Floodplain Management Customized Classes (1 to 16 hours)
All floodplain management classes can be customized to your group's needs, and can be expanded to include one or two full days of introductory and advanced material, including planning, siting, and mitigation aspects of floodplain management. Past audiences for whom special programs have been created include surveyors, citizen groups, environmental groups, K-12 science classes, university design field students, engineering firms, and community officials.
Programs can introduce the characteristics of watersheds or delve into detailed regulatory aspects of floodplain management for the design and engineering audience. Hands-on exercises in completing forms and field exercises have been included in previous presentations. Write or call to discuss your group's needs.
From A to Z in the NFIP (or "A" is for "Accessory Building", "Z" is for "Zone") (two days)
Flood loss reduction is dependant upon the ability to plan and implement appropriate floodplain management. The National Flood Insurance Program forms the basis of our nation's approach to floodplain management, and it is our responsibility as design professionals to understand the program's three main areas - mapping, regulation, and insurance - in order to protect our clients, our communities, and ourselves. Beginning with the distinctions between the various types of floods and floodplains, this two-day program will investigate the maps and the studies behind them, the regulatory basis for floodplain management at the various levels of governmental implementation, and the application of this knowledge to map changes and development decisions. After defining terms and the applicable regulations, we will work hands-on with Elevation Certificates and applications for various Letters of Map Change, and discuss how to advise our clients regarding their floodplain development plans. Individuals reviewing material for ASFPM's Certified Floodplain Manager examination have found this course useful.
Highways, Byways, and Private Roads (half day)
Location or relocation, free or restricted access, centerline or sideline: all of these aspects of roads affect the work of both boundary and construction surveyors. After a brief history of roads and road building in the US, we will investigate the creation of public and private terrestrial passage, the entities that control them, the rights of abutting owners, and the extinguishing of those same corridors for transportation.
- A brief history of road development in the US
- Definitions of terms related to roads: highway, public road, private road, abandonment, vacation, reservation, exception, necessity, convenience
- 5th and 14th Amendment rights, state constitutional rights for "just compensation"
- Federal and state statutory definitions and agency regulations affecting roads and highways
- Common law and statutory law applications in court cases
- Agency contact list
This half-day course is meant for either intermediate or advanced audiences. The objective of the program is to include participants in debate about practical application of the legal aspects of land acquisition, road location and width, and use of roads, whether those roads are public or private.
Legal Research Basics (half day, or hands–on full day)
This program teaches the basics of doing your own legal research in a law library or on the Internet. The practice of every design professional (engineer, surveyor, planner, or architect) is intimately tied to the law. To begin with, the very scope of legal and proper practice is defined by statute in each of the individual states. There is no better way to be sure one is doing all that is permitted by law and avoiding all that would constitute malpractice or negligence than to find and read the laws defining practice and misconduct.
Secondly, we are involved in the legal bond between client and professional known as the contract. Statutes, codes, and case law clarify what should be in a contract to make it legally binding, and we can learn by the mistakes of others drawn into court battles how best to avoid pitfalls.
Finally, we may be called to court ourselves, either as defendant, as professional witness, or as expert witness. It is our responsibility as experts to guide attorneys to the most useful laws and cases, and to suggest lines of questioning to them that may assist in drawing out the facts of a case.
This program is most useful to participants when wireless Internet connections are available so that everyone can practice, although it is possible to present a half day session as a lecture in conference setting. For a full day, Internet connection is a must. Alternative locations in the past have included law libraries with Internet connection, court libraries with Internet connection, and college computer labs. When held in a room with wireless Internet connection, attendees must bring their own laptop, tablet, iPad, phone or other device capable of accessing the web to participate in the hands–on exercises.
Ownership versus Possession (half day)
Ownership of land consists of a bundle of rights that include use and possession. However, mere use or possession of land under certain circumstances may ripen into rights that can cast doubt on the true ownership. When do claims for the right to use or possess land create a claim of title, and when do they only create a right to continued use? We will investigate the various legal claims to land, the evidence supporting these claims, and the surveyor's responsibility to report field or record evidence of such claims.
The Power (and Weakness) of the Written Word (2 to 4 hours)
Whether by longhand or by computer, written communication plays a major role in our professional and private lives. We communicate with words in many ways: letters, contracts, advertisements, brochures, reports, handout materials for a class. All of the documents we write should be clear, complete, and appropriate. To accomplish these objectives we must organize and focus our efforts. Who is the audience? What do you want that audience to do after reading the document?
Using real life print and on-line examples, we'll see how spelling, phrasing, punctuation, and grammar can make or break the message we wish to convey and learn how to tweak our own pens to achieve more effective communication. Longer classes allow for hands-on practice and feedback.
At the conclusion of this program, participants will be able to:
- Develop their own best outline formats for writing
- Understand the legal significance of complete written records
- Recognize the importance of true proofreading versus computer spelling and grammar checking
Record Research: Paper versus Ground Truth (half day)
What does the record say as compared to what is actually on the ground? Title searchers and surveyors both have an interest in public records relating to particular properties. However, the same documents may have different significance to each of these professionals. The most current recorded document does not always accurately describe the property on the ground. But sometimes the written record can reveal clues about additional evidence that we should be seeking out.
Using real-life examples, we will explore difficulties with chains of title, what physical and record calls tell us about the history and location of a property and its markers, and how to better preserve the evidence in our own written descriptions.
Rights and Responsibilities in the Lands of Others: The Effect of Easements on Surveyors' Work (half day)
Easements are rights given to one party to use the land of someone else. Both sides have certain rights to be protected as well as responsibilities to preserve the existence and usefulness of the easement. The Land Surveyor is often asked to determine the location of easement rights on the ground, based upon a written description, but sometimes an inspection of the property reveals uses not publicly recorded. What makes an easement an easement, when does an easement cease to exist, and how do easement rights affect land use? What is the Land Surveyor's responsibility in reporting recorded or unrecorded land use?
Discussion will include the definition of an easement, creation and termination of easements, dominant and servient estates, and a sampling of pertinent state statutes and case law.
Succeeding in the NFIP (full day)
How do elevations and regulations interact in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)? Understanding that relationship guides our work, whether for insurance rating, design purposes, or applications to update flood mapping. We will examine the Elevation Certificate in light of the NFIP regulations related to the various purposes of that form and review some of the technical guidance that is available to better fulfill those purposes, We will also review Letters of Map Amendment and Letters of Map Revision Based on Fill to assure that our applications will be successful.
Title Commitments and Reports: What's In Them and Why We Care (2 to 4 hours)
Acquiring real property interests for any purpose requires the aid of title specialists who can assist in revealing facts or raising questions about this major investment. Whether as purchasers or as the ones interested in locating these interests on the ground, we are likely to find ourselves confronting a mass of paper organized into various Schedules with the relevant bits scattered amidst boilerplate language. Depending upon our needs, we may read some parts and not others, but we should understand why all those lists and document copies are included.
What are title commitments and reports? How do they affect the real property acquisition process? What do the documents included tell us, and what don't they tell us? After defining "title" and distinguishing between marketable and insurable title, we'll answer these and other questions.
To Accept or Not To Accept…That is the Question (half day, or full day co–presented with Steve Parrish)
(This is the course originally created with and co–presented with Dennis Mouland.)
The fundamental reason surveyors are in a regulated profession is because of one specific decision we make each time we do a boundary survey…what to do with the lack or over-abundance of corner evidence. A fast-moving course on the most difficult question in the profession. Covers statutory, administrative, and case law on the subject. Two presenters from different survey systems in the full day version allows additional comparison and contrast between PLSS and Colonial surveys. Audience participation is encouraged to help create a “checklist” of issues to be considered. Several real–world scenarios are discussed in detail.
Tracking the Railroads (half day or full day)
Railroads have played a major part in the settlement and development of the United States. The importance of these bands of steel uniting the country was underscored by the powers granted to railroad companies to acquire land rights in whatever way necessary, whether by grant, in fee, or as easements. Surveyors involved with the original location and layout of the rails had a much easier time of it than we do today, as we try to recreate not only original configuration of rails and parcels, but also what kinds of rights the railroad companies may have had in the land beneath their tracks. We will discuss historical, legal, and practical aspects of the problems we face today as we unravel the railroad puzzle.
- Become aware of different legal definitions of railroads and how these affect railroad rights and regulation
- Identify the variety of real property interests that railroads may hold through examination of document language and laws
- Recognize the evolution in railroad and private landowner rights
- What is a "railroad" by law
- Brief history of railroad development in the US and impact on American life
- Finding railroad records
- Federal and state constitutions, statutes, regulations, and case law regarding railroad land rights and operation
- Extent, type, location, and time/duration of railroad rights
- Abandonment of railroad rights
- Rails to Trails conversions
Utilities, Public and Otherwise (half day)
The word "utility" implies usefulness to the public, but surveyors may find that what is considered a "utility" in one place is not always a utility in another jurisdiction. The distinction between regulated and unregulated utilities defines the legal rights and protections that these utilities may have, or the restrictions that they may be "subject to". The distinction also affects how surveyors access or interpret information about the location of those utilities. The statutes and case law included in this class are intended to help those who plan or stake out new or relocated utility facilities, or recover existing utility locations in the field.
- What is the difference between a regulated utility and an unregulated utility?
- What are the rights of regulated and unregulated utilities, particularly regarding the purchase, lease, or condemnation of property? How does this affect record and locational research?
- Blanket and specific individual easements
- What are the responsibilities of utilities to the public and to the servient estate?
- Who “wins” when there is a conflict between utilities?