Tying Flood Insurance to Flood Risk for Low-lying Structures in the Floodplains

Jun 22, 2015 | News & Views

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Committee on Risk-Based Methods for Insurance Premiums of Negatively Elevated Structures in the National Flood Insurance Program; Water Science and Technology Board; Division on Earth and Life Studies; Board on Mathematical Sciences and Their Applications; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences; National Research Council

Floods take a heavy toll on society, costing lives, damaging buildings and property, disrupting livelihoods, and sometimes necessitating federal disaster relief, which has risen to record levels in recent years. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created in 1968 to reduce the flood risk to individuals and their reliance on federal disaster relief by making federal flood insurance available to residents and businesses if their community adopted floodplain management ordinances and minimum standards for new construction in flood prone areas. Insurance rates for structures built after a flood plain map was adopted by the community were intended to reflect the actual risk of flooding, taking into account the likelihood of inundation, the elevation of the structure, and the relationship of inundation to damage to the structure. Today, rates are subsidized for one-fifth of the NFIP’s 5.5 million policies. Most of these structures are negatively elevated, that is, the elevation of the lowest floor is lower than the NFIP construction standard. Compared to structures built above the base flood elevation, negatively elevated structures are more likely to incur a loss because they are inundated more frequently, and the depths and durations of inundation are greater.