Despite Rising Risks, Many Americans Don’t Have Flood Insurance – Here’s Why

When Hurricane Ian hit Florida’s Gulf Coast on September 28, 2022, the Category 4 storm surged seawater that rose one to two stories along about 60 miles of the state’s southwestern coastline. and flooded thousands of homes.

The trail of destruction from Hurricane Ian has put a national spotlight on building pitfalls in flood-prone areas, with countless media outlets reporting that more than 80% of homes under evacuation orders now have flood insurance. I am emphasizing the fact that I did not join.

But the reality is that many homeowners across the United States aren’t really aware of the flood risk on their property and wonder if they should buy flood insurance to cover storm damage. There is little guidance on

actually, Only about 4% of homeowners nationwide have flood insurance. — a problem that can be largely attributed to flood maps produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Georgina Sancheza researcher at the Center for Geospatial Analysis in North Carolina.

FEMA’s flood maps designate areas located on 100-year floodplains, or areas with a 1% chance of flooding in a given year. Many Americans rely on these maps to decide where and how to build their homes and businesses.

“Flood maps help determine which areas are at high risk of flooding. Therefore, it is important to identify areas that require flood insurance, structural adaptations, or qualify for federal acquisition. It helps,” Sanchez said.

Floods are not typically covered by standard insurance, so homeowners with government-backed mortgages should seek flood insurance if they are on a once-in-a-century floodplain, usually through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Insurance must be purchased separately.

Unfortunately, FEMA’s flood maps underestimate the risk of flooding because they do not take into account heavy rainfall and rising sea levels. As climate change accelerates, these conditions are becoming more common, increasing the likelihood and severity of flooding.

Furthermore, FEMA updates flood maps rapidly and continuously, not taking into account the strengthening and expansion of cities. Transforming natural land into roads and other impervious surfaces increases stormwater runoff and exacerbates flooding.

“FEMA’s designation of high-risk flood areas misleads communities about the actual risks and encourages development adjacent to floodplains, which can lead to greater damage if floods exceed design levels,” he said. Sanchez said.

Sanchez added that the flood mapping process is time consuming, research intensive and expensive. As a result, FEMA has only produced flood maps for his 61% of the continental United States, leaving thousands of communities exposed to flood damage.

Georgina Sanchez (right) and Elyssa Collins (left) of the Center for Geospatial Analysis at North Carolina State University. Photo courtesy.

Recently, Sanchez Elissa Collinsa doctoral candidate at the Center for Geospatial Analysis, and other North Carolina researchers create a computer model Predict where flood damage is likely to occur in the continental United States

The researchers “trained” the computer model using U.S. flood damage reporting data and other information produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration between December 2006 and May 2020.

Comparing this data to FEMA’s 2020 flood map, the majority of damage reports (68.3%) were outside FEMA’s high-risk flood zones, and 16.2% were in unmapped locations. I understand.

They also have a high potential for flood damage, including financial damage, personal injury, and/or loss of life, over more than 1.01 million square miles across only 221,000 square miles of U.S. FEMA’s 100-year floodplain map. I discovered that

“Following Ian and many other major hurricanes, we have observed severe flood damage across the floodplain boundary once in a century,” Sanchez said. “This suggests that there are vulnerable communities across the country that are not considered in current flood management policies.”

Sanchez added that FEMA’s flood maps oversimplify risk by utilizing static categorical boundaries of 100-year floodplains. “Any property outside the floodplain, whether a foot or he is a mile, is considered to have ‘minimal risk’ and is not subject to protection regulations. ”

Water crashes on a bridge in Keema, Texas during Hurricane Harvey.
As a hurricane moves over the ocean, its winds push water toward the coast. This can lead to extreme flooding in coastal areas. Photo by Eric Overton via iStock.

Beginning in 2021, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program will begin incorporating additional flood risk variables (flood frequency, flood type and property characteristics) into the mapping process as part of a new strategy called Risk Rating 2.0.

But Sanchez said FEMA is only using a risk rating of 2.0 to improve flood insurance premium estimates for property owners located within designated high-risk flood zones.

“It’s an important step in recognizing that flood risk varies by region, but flood risk estimates need to account for rapid changes in our landscape and climate,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez and Collins are now working with other researchers in North Carolina and the U.S. Geological Survey to Create a simulation representing annual flood probabilities It is likely to change over the next century under various global climate scenarios.

The simulations will ultimately provide land-use planners across the country “computationally efficient forecasts of flood risk that can be quickly updated as conditions change or new data become available,” Sanchez said. I’m here.

“Data-driven methods can complement FEMA’s current flood risk estimates to provide more robust forecasts,” she concluded.

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