Fairfield County residents had a chance to view FEMA's new preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps at Darien Town Hall on Wednesday, April 7, during two separate public information sessions.

Some residents' coverage may have changed, due to the update, shifting their homes and properties from low-risk areas to high-risk or vice versa, according to Lauren Pawlik, a map modernization outreach specialist at FEMA.

"This is a nationwide update, and some of the maps are up to 30 years old," she said, adding that it's important for Darien residents to know what their flood risk is.

"In high-risk zones, homeowners and business owners with a federally-backed mortgage lender will require flood insurance, according to federal law," she said.

But property owners without a mortgage can do as they please, according to Diane Ifkovic, a national flood insurance coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

"If you don't have a mortgage -- including reverse mortgage, home equity line, construction loans or building loans -- and you're located in the floodplain, the purchase is a personal decision," Ifkovic said. "No state agency and no town government is going to come after you."

But flood insurance is a good thing to have in high-risk zones, according to Pawlik.

"Flood insurance is the best way to ensure that you're covered. Federally declared disasters only happen about 50 percent of the time, and even then there's no guarantee that you'll be eligible for FEMA aid."

Flood insurance bills can really add up, she said. But Darienites in high-risk areas can save money if they lock-in their flood insurance rates before the new maps become official on June 18, according to Pawlik.

The new maps differ from the old ones in several ways.

"There's much more precise topographical information than the old maps; they're also overlaid with aerial photos, which makes properties easier to see," she said. "Some flood zones expanded because of the new data. Some have shrunk."

But in Darien, the shifting has been minimal, according to Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg.

"We were very fortunate that it did not change significantly," he said.

If a part of a landowner's property falls within the high-risk zone, this does not necessarily mean the landowner will be placed into the "high-risk" category. A person's home must fall within the "high-risk" zone for that distinction to be made, according to Ginsberg.

"Sometimes the new lines touch a little bit of the property, but I wasn't aware of many where it touched the house," Ginsberg said.

Residents who were unable to attend the public information sessions can check their flood risk status by visiting www.fema.gov.