Lessons From Hurricane Season in 2017: Got Flood Insurance?

It took less than a month for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season to become one of the worst in recorded history.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas on August 25th as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph. The storm surge increased water and tides more than 12 feet above ground level in some places. Harvey shattered rainfall records as it meandered for days, with some areas receiving more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.

Hurricane Irma hit Florida on September 10th as a Category 4 storm. According to researchers, Irma is one of the most powerful storms to roam the Atlantic Basin in more than a decade. Irma had sustained winds of 185 mph for 37 hours, which is the longest any cyclone anywhere in the world has maintained that level of intensity.

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. The entire island suffered catastrophic damage. In some places the damage was absolute.

As an independent insurance agent living and working in South Florida for over 30 years, preparing for and recovering after storms is nothing new. But, this year was different. As Hurricane Irma was making its way toward the southeastern coast of the United States, we received an unprecedented number of calls about flood insurance. Why?

Everyone saw the catastrophic flooding in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey just a few weeks earlier. The damage was devastating. So was the news that nearly 80% of homeowners in the counties most directly affected by flooding did not have flood insurance.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), floods are the most common and costliest natural disaster. FEMA’s flood hazard mapping program is used to identify flood hazards, assess flood risks and determine flood insurance requirements.

Unfortunately, too many homeowners and businesses refuse to carry flood insurance simply because they are not located in a high-risk flood zone. Hurricane Harvey taught us that when it comes to flooding, mother nature doesn’t pay attention to FEMA’s flood zone maps. Neither should you.

Flood zones are always being re-mapped, but it’s a long process that can take years. Updated maps quickly become out-of-date. Moreover, the process of identifying property that is susceptible to flooding is not a perfect science. For example, flood zone determinations fail to adequately consider:

  • localized drainage issues;
  • long-term erosion;
  • ongoing development;
  • topographic variances on individual properties; or
  • the failure of flood control systems.

This is why everyone should seriously consider flood insurance, regardless of whether they are located in a high-risk flood zone. Premiums are relatively affordable, particularly when you consider the risks assumed by a flood insurance policy, such as the:

  • overflow of inland or tidal waters;
  • collapse of land along a body of water from waves or currents; and
  • rapid accumulation of surface waters from any source, including blocked storm drains and broken water pipes below the surface of the ground.

Uninsured flood damage can devastate any home or business. Over the course of just a few weeks, we’ve seen the landfall of not one, not two, but three hurricanes that rank among the most powerful storms in recorded history. This is why those relying on flood zone maps to justify their decision to not purchase flood insurance should seriously reconsider.

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