The following question-and-answer release was prepared by Westport officials to help inform residents whose properties may have been reclassified in newly issued maps of local flood zones prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

How will these changes affect you?

To find out if your property has been mapped into a higher-risk zone, known as a Special Flood Hazard Area, and shown as "A," "AE" or "V" on the Flood Insurance Rate Map, contact the Planning and Zoning Department office at 203-341-1076.

If you have a mortgage from a federally regulated lender and the building(s) on this parcel is within the SFHA, then by federal law, your lender must require you to carry flood insurance when these flood maps become effective. Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program, a federally underwritten program provided by nearly 100 insurance companies and written through licensed insurance agents.

Contact your insurance agent to learn about lower-cost "grandfathering" options offered by the NFIP for properties being mapped into higher-risk areas.

If you do not have a mortgage, it is still recommended that you purchase flood insurance. Over the life of a 30-year loan, there is about a three times greater chance of having a flood in your home than having a fire. Most homeowner's insurance policies do not provide coverage for damage due to flooding. For more information on flood insurance, visit the National Flood Insurance Program's website, www.floodsmart.gov.

If you feel there has been an error, you can file a protest or appeal.

The maps that were just released are still preliminary. Running through Sept. 6, 2012, there will be a public comment period. This is a time when citizens will have the opportunity to submit technical and/or scientific data to file a protest regarding their individual property, or an appeal regarding the accuracy of the mapping process in general.

When do the maps become effective?

Once the appeals and protests are reviewed and any needed map changes are incorporated, FEMA will issue a Letter of Final Determination. Zoning regulations approving the new Flood Insurance Rate Maps will then be adopted and the maps will become effective as will any new flood insurance requirements. It is anticipated that the new maps will become effective May 16, 2013.

Here's where to go for more information.

For general information about the flood map changes, you can contact Michelle Perillie or Larry Bradley of the town's Planning and Zoning office at 203-341-1076. Staff is available to answer questions regarding new flood maps on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 3 p.m., or Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon.