Author: Donna Conneely
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other recent storms, residents and business owners across the country have been struggling with long-term devastation, lengthy power outages, massive clean-ups, and the outright loss of property and possessions. Now, four months after Sandy, a new challenge has been added to the list of woes: a new, revised flood map.
Suddenly, thousands of properties that have never before required flood insurance are being designated as a flood risk — located inside newly-designated flood zones. This means that the property owners must scramble to find and buy flood insurance, which will be required in order to continue using the property for residential or business purposes.
Generally, when changes to the flood map are proposed, the new designation does not go into effect for six months to a year. This period gives property owners time to make changes that can affect flood insurance rates. Flood barriers, berms, ditches and causeways are all effective at mitigating flood risk, and these measures — if properly implemented — can result in significant savings on the now-mandatory flood insurance.
The cost of flood insurance varies greatly according to risk and location within the flood zone. If a property is barely inside the risk area, or if the risk has been greatly mitigated by flood panels or other flood protection actions, the insurance may be as little as $600 per year. Properties within a high-risk area, with no flood protection adjustments, may be slammed with rates of $6000 per year or more.
Although it may seem harsh to saddle beleaguered property owners with extra costs even as they struggle to recover from a major disaster, it is deemed necessary to protect the larger society from the burden of paying for loss of property inside flood zones. Floods are by far the most expensive of all natural disasters, and it is necessary that those living within flood zones take steps to alleviate risk and to put into place flood protection devices and practices.
The new flood maps include many properties that have have no history of flooding, and this is causing a lot of anger and despair among some property owners. The maps are drawn by studying extremely accurate topographical data, which determines which areas could flood, even if they have not flooded in the past. It is also possible that flood risk may have changed in a given area due to surrounding land having been re-shaped for new development and/or general land use changes.
Flood zones are designated on a federal basis, and the required insurance is also managed by federal agencies. Unfortunately, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is chronically underfunded, and is forever on the verge of being held up as Congress approves its operating budget — a process that is often obstructed by partisan politics. Now that thousands of new properties are added to the list of homes and businesses requiring mandatory flood insurance, it is more important than ever that the NFIP should receive priority funding and that partisan squabbling be put aside.