Do We Need Flood Insurance for FEMA’s ‘Low Risk’ Areas?

Learn how prevalent floods really are, and how you can avoid unexpected surprises.

Beyond Floods
Nov 17, 2015 · 4 min read

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle (along with other contributing authors including FEMA and the CA Government) published an article that focused on encouraging individuals to purchase flood insurance. The Chronicle’s article collected the opinion of scientists and subject matter experts who underscored the importance of flood insurance especially with the imminent arrival of El Niño. What separates this article from others are some of the candid opinions expressed by those interviewed, notably;

“It’s very hard to assess flooding risk […] it’s easier to assess earthquake than flood risk.”


“FEMA focuses on river flooding and is less good at predicting flash flooding events like we are more likely to get this year.”

This type of flooding is exactly what was seen during heavy rainstorms in Houston, Texas this year. Below is a map of the geocoded 311 calls related to flooding that were received in Houston during the last week of May 2015. In the figure, the blue areas represent FEMA’s “100 year” floodplains (1% annual chance flood).

Note that flooding occurred virtually everywhere spread across the city, and also note how many of the flood related 311 calls happened outside of what is traditionally considered a “high risk” area by FEMA. In fact, more flooding calls originated outside of these designated “high risk” areas than inside. 56% of the 311 calls that complained about flooding came from outside of the FEMA “100 year” floodplain. This indicates that we cannot base our assessment of flood risk on FEMA’s maps alone. In order to increase individual and community resilience to floods, we need to identify additional means to assess such risk, especially outside of the “high risk” areas. The Chronicle’s article gives a hint as to how one might go about doing this:

…look at their elevation relative to areas around you. If you are situated at a low point where water can collect, or if you see ponding or erosion on your property after heavy rains, you could be at risk.”

Making such an assessment may sound as simple as walking out your front door and taking a look at the land and water bodies around you. However, In reality it takes sifting through large data sets and leveraging advanced geospatial technologies to determine your flooding risk at that location and relative to properties nearby. Alternatively, the homeowner or homebuyer could try Beyond Floods. Our objective at Syndeste is to simplify these challenges and assist you in easily understanding your flooding risk, which is why Beyond Floods focuses on helping you in three easy steps:

Step 1. Identifying Individual Buildings. You enter the property’s address and see reports for specific buildings within that property. This is a lot more accurate and reliable compared to solutions that provide a location based generalization.

Step 2. Helping you assess if flood insurance for your property of interest is:

  • Requiredwe detected government regulations in place for your property
  • Recommendedwe strongly urge you to consider getting flood insurance as our flood outlook algorithm identified multiple additional factors indicating high flooding risk to your property (like proximity to past flooding events, propensity to ponding, elevation relative to flooding source and FEMA flood elevations etc.), or
  • Optional — you can continue to remain uninsured — however, with premium rates starting at $11/month for qualifying low risk properties, it is worth getting flood insurance to avoid any financial turmoil resulting from an unexpected flooding event

Step 3. Providing you an approximation of the flood insurance premium for any property, right up front: Note that we estimate the flood insurance premium using multiple datasets that provide us insights about your property building and it’s location. You can refine this estimate by using the Flood Insurance Calculator (Beta) within the app, and providing information about your property structure and policy preferences. If our estimate gives you perspective, and you are interested in buying flood insurance, please drop us a note for a quote for your property.

Beyond Floods is free to download. Browse properties in the cities we currently serve, access the basic (free) and advanced flood outlook reports (through in-app purchase) at a property structure level. Beyond Floods also helps you understand how flood prone other properties in your neighborhood are.

Remember, with 1 in 3 flood claims occurring outside the FEMA floodplains, you are better off getting flood insurance for rates starting as low as $11/month for qualifying low risk properties.

Should you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, feel free to leave us a note at admin [ at ]

Living Beyond Floods

Helping people better understand and manage flood risks

Living Beyond Floods

Helping people better understand and manage flood risks

Beyond Floods

Written by

Beyond Floods provides organizations high resolution data and insights on flood risk.

Living Beyond Floods

Helping people better understand and manage flood risks