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The Flood Factor: Updated flood maps are sobering. Is your home at risk?

Understanding the risks of flooding in your home can be challenging. Until recently, the primary tool for figuring out whether or not your home sits in a flood-prone location was to check the Federal Emergency Management Agency maps; however, as a result of the costly research required to make the maps, the intense labor, climate change, and even political influence, these maps have long been suspected of broadly underestimating the risks of flooding for many homes. A recent study conducted by The First Street Foundation indicated that, in fact, over 14.6 million properties across the country are at immediate risk of flooding, a figure which is 6 million higher than what the federal government has previously calculated. In an effort to battle the ongoing challenges with flooding, First Street Foundation, a non-profit research and technology group located in New York, has developed a more reliable tool to provide insight into the true risks of flooding in specific areas.


Understanding the Impact of Flooding in California


According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), every county in California has been declared a flood disaster area multiple times – “The state’s many valleys—particularly the Central Valley—are susceptible to rivers overflowing. Lowland coastal flooding is common when high tides coincide with large, storm-driven waves; tsunamis also strike occasionally. Southern California, the deserts, and areas recently burned by wildfires are susceptible to flash floods. And storms commonly cause local urban flooding because of inadequate drainage systems and impermeable surfaces – such as streets and parking lots – that allow stormwater to pond quickly and deeply.”


On the coast, homeowners face even more risks for the simple reason that something as commonplace as a high tide can cause flooding. Over the years, tides have caused coastal lines to erode, reducing the gap between the sea water and the homes developed on the coast. This sea level rise suppression, which is what researchers have named the phenomenon, has been largely ignored over the past decades, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t impactful. In fact, experts expect that by the end of the century, the sea rise on the shore could be greater than nine feet. This can pose threats to not only the coastal homes, but to the communities along the shores as well.


The damage that these floods inflict on homes can be costly if a homeowner is not prepared – Floods can cause both immediate and ongoing damage. High water brings structural damage, electrical damage, appliance damage, damage to septic and well water systems, and ongoing problems with mold and mildew, to name a few potential issues. Furthermore, the repair costs can be huge – According to, a 2,500 square-foot home that floods with 6 inches of water could run up a potential loss of more than $50,000.


What About Insurance?


Many homeowners who encounter flooding find themselves paying out of pocket for the repairs because flood insurance is not always required unless mandated by the mortgage lender. Unfortunately, since most lenders rely on FEMA’s maps to determine the risks, which we previously mentioned are unreliable indicators of flood danger, the lenders are sorely lacking the impartial data they need to keep homeowners updated on their actual potential risks. In 2018, there were only an estimated 225,720 policies issued for flood insurance to Californians, while there are around 11 million households in the state.


Introducing First Street Foundation


To provide insight as well as to empower consumers and lenders, First Street Foundation has recently released an interactive map that outlines the risks of flooding at a specific location – The map is called Flood Factor. The company used federal elevation and rainfall data as well as coastal flooding estimates from hurricanes. Then, the developers checked their results against a national database of flood claims and historic flood paths to develop an online tool that makes it simple to understand the risks of flooding over time in specific locations. The tool even assesses areas that the government has not yet mapped for flooding, as well as places where the federal maps are decades old and no longer useful.


Furthermore, Flood Factor takes into consideration the idea that the environment is always changing – sea levels are rising; sea surface temperatures are increasing, which leads to more extreme cyclonic activity; and the atmosphere continues to be warm, leading to changes in precipitation and snowmelt patterns. These shifting conditions of our environment must be taken into consideration to conduct risk calculations – Surprisingly, these factors are not considered by FEMA in their flood mapping.


According to Matthew Eby, founder and executive director of the First Street Foundation “Millions of home and property owners have had no way of knowing the significant risk they face” – The hope is that Flood Factor can provide insight into the true future risk’s homeowners face. In addition, the new estimates would change the future for builders, banks, insurers, and government officials, who have historically underestimated the true physical and financial risks of flooding.


FEMA has publicly acknowledged the efforts of First Street Foundation, saying it would be a complement to their efforts. A spokesperson with FEMA even stated “We know there is no perfect science to predict flooding…The Flood Factor product may help property owners with the critical decisions they must make and purchase necessary information.”


Getting Coverage


Protecting your property should be a priority; otherwise, how can you ensure that your family has a place to call to call home for years to come? To learn more about the risks of flooding in your area, check out the new Flood Factor map, which will provide exactly that insight. California homeowners, in particular, should re-evaluate whether or not they need flood insurance coverage and educate themselves on the various policies that are available. Not all insurances, for example, provide 100% coverage, so finding a policy that best covers your risks will be essential in keeping your family and your investment safe.



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