International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

-ette, tu, National Flood Insurance Program | March 2, 2009

Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Partner, Robinson & Cole

Pull out your Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a most authoritative source, and look up

“–ette”. It is a noun suffix and comes from the French, feminine diminutive suffix, from Old French –ete. Definitions are: 1 : little one <kitchenette> 2 : female <farmerette> .

This usage has invaded our vocabulary in many ways. Take “dinette”, for example, which appears to have been coined in 1925 to describe “a small space usually off a kitchen used for informal dining”.

I knew the suffixation of –ette to things important and trivial had reached full entrenchment when “Smurfette” appeared as the first female character of the Smurfs in 1966. An enemy of the Smurfs created her from clay to cause trouble among the Smurfs. I know, TMI – Too Much Information. Click here if you want more details.

Here she is, courtesy of


Land use practice necessarily involves flood control, including flood hazard mitigation under the National Flood Insurance Program. And flood plain management necessarily involves – you know what comes next – FIRMs – the Flood Insurance Rate Maps, which show 100-year flood plain elevations (those are the floods that actually occur every few years it seems), floodways, Special Flood Hazard Areas, and so forth. Here is a good tutorial that can make you look like you know what you’re doing when you have a FIRM spread out in front of you.

So guess what recently came across my desk? You can take your FIRM and make a FIRMette !

Yes, folks, make your very own FIRMette by using the government’s new software to extract data from the on-line FIRM. Click here to see how you do it.

But why would you care to make FIRMettes, other than they may make dandy free gifts for family and friends? Because that cabinet full of FIRMs that you had is going to fade away starting October 1, 2009, when FEMA will stop distributing paper copies of the FIRMs. Click here for more guidance. Click here for the tutorial.

Starting on October 1, you will only be able to get FIRMs digitally on-line or on CDs and DVDs as a FIRM Scan (that’s FIRM Scan not FIRM Scam).

Now, if you just hit print, since each Firm Scan is an entire enormous FIRM, your printer will do something bad and maybe you’ll end up with 43,562 8 ½ x 11 inch sheets, I don’t know.

What you will have to do if you don’t have a large-format printer is make a bunch of FIRMettes. Have fun.

I tried it for my own backyard after skipping the tutorial (it’s a guy thing, like not asking for directions). Just find your FIRM using a street address. Then it took a couple of minutes to download the FIRM, even though we have a lot of bandwidth. Don’t try this on dial up.

The FIRM Scan has a button “Make FIRMette”. First, I zoomed into my backyard. You can use the “Zoom Win” button to outline a window you want to make as your FIRMette. That took a minute or so. It showed a nice enlargement. And then I clicked “Make FIRMette” and got this, which is the whole FIRM Scan (unreadable for you, I know) and not the enlarged area (guess I will have to read the tutorial):


You can get a high level of detail out of these maps. Here’s a cut and paste of our elementary school and my house, safely out of the floodplain….


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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.







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