Broward County Homeowners May Be Forced to Buy Flood Insurance

If a property owner discovers that their home has been mapped into a flood plain, or that their home has been moved to a higher-risk area with a higher premium, FEMA officials urge them to buy a “Preferred Risk Policy.”

by Mario Ariza, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. / February 11, 2020
Cars drive through and around water pooling at the intersection of East Las Olas Blvd. and Coral Way in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. TNS

(TNS) — Tens of thousands of homeowners may now have to start paying hundreds of dollars or more each year in flood insurance, thanks to an update in maps that reveal which homes face a flood risk.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is updating its flood maps, and the number of properties in Broward County, Fla., being redrawn into flood zones is significant. “We’re talking 60,000 to 70,000 properties,” says Carlos Adorisio, engineering unit supervisor at Broward’s Environmental Engineering and Permitting Division, and the county’s flood plain manager.

Meanwhile, some homeowners may actually see their costs go down, officials say. Adorisio said another 10,000 properties will be leaving flood zones.

At a recent workshop at the Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood, officials walked participants through the process of determining whether their home had been remapped, and what — if anything — they could do about it.

Officials first directed homeowners to FEMA’s Map Service Center, an online tool that will tell them if their home has been remapped.

If a property owner discovers that their home has been mapped into a flood plain, or that their home has been moved to a higher-risk area where they will likely be paying a more substantial premium, FEMA officials urge them to purchase a “Preferred Risk Policy” from their insurance provider, essentially allowing them to lock in a lower rate for a period of time.

Property owners also have the choice of challenging the map, but must provide their own mapping data to back up their challenge, according to FEMA.

According to information provided by FEMA, the new maps — and the new rates — could become active in as little as 18 months.

The flood maps help measure the risk of a particular property facing an extreme flood. The maps rely on a mix of elevation data with projections of storm surge and hurricane intensity.

Basically, they predict where water is likely to go during a bad storm, and how high it is likely to get.

In turn, the maps are used by the National Flood Insurance Program, the government program that underwrites flood risk across the country, to help set insurance rates on properties within flood zones.

Mortgage lenders usually require that property owners with a loan carry flood insurance policies.

FEMA says that the new data it is using to draw the flood maps is much more accurate. Whereas much of the data used to create the previous set of maps was almost 40 years old and often hand-drawn, the new data has been collected using digital technology.

“We’ve got more data, better modeling, aerial photos," says Mark Viera, a senior engineer with FEMA. “It’s just better stuff than we had 40 years ago.”

According to Viera, the maps also incorporate some climate change data, including the ocean level, which has risen some 8 inches around South Florida since the early ’90s.

But the maps do not incorporate projections of where the level of the ocean may rise, even though the South East Florida Climate Change Compact, a regional planning body, estimates the region may see up to 17 inches by 2040.

“We may have to redo the map,” Viera notes.


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