May/June 2006Flood Insurance: Not Just for the Coastby Marc Rapport

Know this: Your homeowner’s policy does not cover flood damage. Unless you pay for it separately, you don’t have it, and that could be a problem.

Floods, the worst often resulting from tropical storms and hurricanes, have caused an average of $675 million a year in damage in the United States, including a spike to $14.8 billion in 2005, for homeowners, renters and business owners, according to the latest figures from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In South Carolina, the NFIP has paid $423 million since 1974 to settle 17,600 claims, while collecting $68.7 million in premiums.

Insurance companies typically don't cover flooding as part of a regular homeowners policy because it's so expensive. So the NFIP was created in 1968 to help with floodplain management and to ensure that flood insurance (through private insurance agents) is available in areas prone to such problems.

Flood Facts from the National Flood Insurance Program

  • Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States.
  • In the past 10 years (1996-2005), the average flood losses in the U.S. were $675 million per year.
  • In the past 10 years (1996-2005), the NFIP paid nearly $20 billion to flood insurance customers.
  • The average premium for a yearly flood insurance policy is $453.
  • 20 to 25 percent of all flood insurance claims are filed in low- to moderate-risk areas.
  • The NFIP paid nearly $14.8 billion in flood insurance claims to homeowners, business owners and renters during the 2005 hurricane season.

It's not just a storm surge issue. Tropical Storm Alberto, in July 2004, for example, dropped more than two feet of rain in some locations in central Georgia, causing that state's worst-ever flooding. Yet, NFIP coverage tends to be heavily skewed to the coast, notes Lisa Jones, state coordinator for flood mitigation programs in the Land, Water and Conservation Division at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

"We have about one hundred seventy thousand policies in South Carolina and ninety-five percent of those are in the eight coastal counties," Jones says. "That means one of two things: Either nobody west of I-95 lives in a flood plain or there are a gross number of uninsured people living in flood plains west of I-95."

NFIP-backed policies are available to anyone living in a city, village, town or county that has a flood plain, whether or not the individual home is in it, as long as the local government participates in the program. The average premium is $400 a year, and NFIP officials note that as much as 25 percent of flood damage occurs in areas that are considered at low to moderate risk.

Jones' office helps local governments with floodplain mapping, as well as construction standards and flood mitigation. And after a disaster happens, her office is prepared to provide technical assistance to local governments in the recovery process, including damage assessment and construction compliance.

Her office also provides training to local officials, private engineers, surveyors and others in handling the forms, certifications and other technicalities involved in such things as meeting FEMA flood elevation requirements.

For more information on NFIP, go to https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.

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