Communities Under Water: Lessons Learned from Extreme Floods
VOLUME 29, NUMBER 4, FALL 2016
By Joey Holleman back to main story
Flood insurance: Because “we all live in a flood plain”
A couple of important and related lessons must be continually re-learned after each major flood.
Although mortgage companies only require flood insurance for those living in the flood zone designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), it also is a good investment for those outside the flood zone. For instance, in the North Charleston area, 40 percent of homeowners who filed FEMA quick claims for damage after the October 2015 floods lived outside the flood zone, and almost none of them had flood insurance.
Federal assistance is available for those without flood insurance, but it is designed simply to get residents back on their feet. Payments to the 28,163 uninsured households eligible for FEMA assistance in South Carolina in 2015 averaged $3,169, and only about 28 percent of those who applied were deemed eligible.
Russ Dubisky, director of the S.C. Insurance News Service, has been preaching this message for years. Even if your mortgage lender doesn’t require flood insurance, it’s a good idea if you live anywhere near water.
“We hear it all the time after an event: ‘It’s never flooded here before,’ ” Dubisky says. “The reality is, we all live in a flood plain.”
Despite the relative lack of flooding in South Carolina since 2000, the number of flood insurance policies in the state jumped from 105,000 in 1999 to 199,300 before the 2015 floods, with another 1,200 policies taken out between the October 2015 and October 2016 floods, according to FEMA. The long-term increase can be partially attributed to new construction in flood zones. For example, of 11,340 acres of land converted to development in Charleston County from 1996-2010, nearly 44 percent was in a FEMA-designated flood plain, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal County Snapshot.
Fortunately, many of those new homes have been built with flood resilience in mind in cities and counties that participate in the Community Rating System (CRS), an initiative of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Communities can reduce the cost of flood insurance premiums by 5-to-45 percent for their residents if steps are taken to reduce flood damage. Some of the recommended actions include publicizing which areas are flood-prone, developing updated flood maps, regulating the runoff allowed from new developments, and routinely inspecting culverts and ditches.
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