Quite a bit of attention is being paid lately to floods and the devastation they leave behind. In the wake of Katrina, more and more questions have been raised about what kind of preventative measures would have lessened the catastrophic effects of such an event.  How well equipped are individual homeowners to handle financial consequences on their own, as opposed to relying solely on agencies like FEMA to provide them with economic assistance? Are Americans taking advantage of the nation's flood insurance program?

That's what FEMA wanted to know. The agency worked through the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to commission a study. AIR is a not-for-profit organization that conducts research on social issues and provides technical assistance in the fields of health, education, and workforce productivity. AIR coordinated the study, which was conducted by the Institute for Civil Justice and the Infrastructure, Safety and Environment division of the RAND Corporation. It was intended to be part of an overall evaluation of the flood insurance program.

In the course of their work, the researchers discovered that most homeowners buy flood insurance only because it is required. Only 20% of homeowners living in the areas most vulnerable to floods buy federal flood insurance when they are not required to do so. The study went on to reveal that just 1% of Americans living outside designated flood zones buy federal flood insurance even though the possibility of being victimized by flood is a real threat.

Only 50% to 60% of the 3.6 million single-family homes in the most highly affected areas are legally required to buy federal flood insurance. The remaining homeowners in these areas and the nearly 76 million single-family homes outside these areas are not required to buy flood insurance.

The study put the greatest emphasis on exploring the demographics of flood insurance purchasers. About 63% of homeowners living in areas subject to coastal flooding purchase flood insurance. Approximately 35% of homeowners living in areas that are only affected by river flooding buy flood insurance. The researchers surmised that the disparity might be the result of a perception of having less risk or that coverage available for basements is limited, and basements are prevalent in inland areas subject to river flooding. The report recommended that this aversion to flood insurance by those living in inland areas be studied, to search for an explanation or possible causes.

The study also looked at purchasing habits along geographic breakdowns. In the South, 75% of homeowners who carry flood insurance also have contents coverage. Only 16% of homeowners with flood insurance in the Midwest and 49% in the Northeast have contents coverage.

Clearly homeowners everywhere need to reassess their exposure to flooding.  If you have questions about obtaining flood insurance for your property, please give us a call.