Floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S. Nearly half of U.S. states are expected to experience significant flood events during the spring of 2020, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. In just the past few years, major flood disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Florence, and flood events in the Midwest have exhausted many response resources.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the world faces an unprecedented threat to human health and safety. COVID-19, like any disaster, also threatens America’s economic well-being, as unemployment soars and an effective vaccine could be months, even years away.
As a result, people who live in flood-prone areas must now consider the very real possibility of facing multiple and concurrent disasters.
In FEMA’s most recent strategic plan, former FEMA Administrator Brock Long remarked, “We need to help individuals and families understand their personal roles in preparing for disasters and taking action—they are our true first responders”.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our personal resources, preparedness and resiliency will determine how our community as a whole recovers. If a natural disaster does hit, it is critically important to ensure we have the financial resources to weather and fully recover from such an event.
With many of us quarantined at home, we have a unique opportunity to review our insurance coverages, particularly home and flood. Many remain unaware that their homeowners’ policy does not contain flood coverage. For those impacted by flood who do not have flood insurance, there are limited federal resources available. For example, Small Business Administration loans and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) dollars become available when there is a presidentially declared disaster.
More recently, the 203(k) loan program, a home renovation loan, has been used as a tool to perform mitigation activities, such as elevating a home. Traditional lending is also available, and traditional loan-to-value ratios can determine its availability to an individual. A last resort would be to wait for individual assistance after a disaster from FEMA. But following Hurricane Harvey, that assistance averaged only about $6,000 per household.
Flood insurance continues to be the best financial recovery tool. Flood insurance is available any time, and with the right product, can be relatively inexpensive. Private flood insurance, as an alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), in some cases can offer more coverage with lower cost.
To help lower NFIP flood premiums and flood risk, some communities have participated in the Community Rating System (CRS). CRS enables a community to reduce the cost of flood insurance for all of its citizens, provided the community performs certain risk reduction actions.
In an effort to keep our nation insured for floods in the current pandemic, in March the NFIP announced that a flood policy with an expiration date between February 13 and June 15 would have an extended grace period for payment from 30 days to 120 days. Additionally, the NFIP is offering the policyholder the option of remote claims handling as an alternative to in-person claims handling.
Overall risk awareness and disaster prevention are paramount during this time. Just because we socially distance from each other does not mean that floods and other natural disasters will “distance” as well.
Understanding evacuation routes, having a personal emergency kits, and knowing which disasters are most likely to strike are simple things that help lessen a disasters impact. For example, moving valuables out of the basement to prevent flood damage or securing outdoor items that can turn into projectiles and debris can lessen damage. Making sure our basement sump pumps work and having backups and directing drainage away from our homes lessens the chance of a flood claim.
We need to maintain our physical and emotional health during these unprecedented times, but we also need to maintain our awareness that floods and other disasters still happen. The inevitability of concurrent disasters throughout the U.S. in this time of pandemic will threaten our response and recovery resources. However, if we all work together by utilizing all available resources and recognizing our flood risk, we can be more resilient as a community and as a nation.
Joe Rossi is a flood specialist, RogersGray Insurance, and chairman and executive director of Massachusetts Coastal Coalition.