Do You Know Your Flood Risk?
Flooding and flash flooding are a leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States, according to the National Weather Service. It is also the most common weather-related cause of property damage in the nation. During Sandy last year, many property owners were caught off guard by the risk that flooding posed as the storm came ashore, leading to deaths and injuries, homes washed away, and businesses heavily damaged by flood waters. Sandy resulted in $6.7 billion in National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) payouts as of July 2013, second only to Hurricane Katrina’s $16.3 billion in payouts in August 2005, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Learn Your Flood Risk
IBHS encourages residents to learn about the flooding risk of their properties and take steps to reduce that risk. The best place to start is by finding out what flood zone, from high to low risk, your property is in. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works with each municipality to create and update flood maps that show the flood zone for each part of the community.
You can look up your property on the local flood map by visiting FEMA Map Service Center’s website or contacting your city or county government. Your insurance agent or mortgage lender also may be able to assist. Additional information on looking up your property on flood maps and the meaning of the flood zone designations is available at Determining Your Flood Zone Designation and What The Flood Maps Mean.
It also is important to note that there are many times when a building can experience flood damage even if it is not located within a high risk flood area on the flood map. Therefore, it is best to get an understanding of the flood zone of your entire surrounding area to fully understand your risk.
Updated Flood Maps
Floods maps are redrawn by FEMA to reflect new information and recommendations. In fact, many communities are currently receiving new, more detailed flood maps, as part of an ongoing flood map modernization effort by FEMA. Consult your city or county building department to determine if your local maps have been or soon will be updated, and how the redrawing may affect your property. If an update has recently been completed or is on-going, it is recommended that you look at the maps to see if it has affected the flood zone for your property.
Know Your Base Flood Elevation
Once you know what flood zone your property is in, it is important to find out what the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is for your property. The BFE is the elevation at which your building has a one percent chance of flooding annually. You can find the BFE for your property listed on many flood maps, especially newer ones, or by contacting your local building department, or you can hire a licensed surveyor. After identifying the BFE for your property, you need to determine whether the elevation of your building’s lowest floor is above or below the published BFE for your property.
If your building is below the BFE for the area, you should consider elevating your structure, to reduce the chances that it will flood. IBHS recommends that buildings be at least 3 feet above the BFE, to account for wave action, flash flooding or higher than expected flooding levels. Find out more information about Protecting Your Building From Floods.
Once you know what your risk is, you also should consider purchasing flood insurance, especially if you find you are in, or near, a high-risk flood zone (Special Flood Hazard Area). Flood insurance is provided through the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and can be purchased through private insurance agents and companies. If you have a federally-backed mortgage, be aware that your lender may require you to purchase flood insurance if you are in or near a high-risk flood zone. Learn more about Flood Insurance.
If you live in a high risk flood zone or your property has had repetitive losses due to floods, you also should become familiar with recent changes in the NFIP approved by the U.S. Congress last year, as part of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The law requires that flood insurance rates now accurately reflect true risk, especially in areas of high flood risk, which have been previously subsidized at lower rates. These changes mean that some, but not all, property owners will see an increase in their flood insurance premiums. Learn more about the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act.
© 2012 Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety