September is National Preparedness Month and this year’s theme is, “A Lasting Legacy: The life you’ve built is worth protecting. Prepare for disasters to create a lasting legacy for you and your family.”
Did you know that most standard homeowners or renters’ insurance does not cover damage from flooding? Recent flooding in Kentucky is a sobering example of how quickly disasters bring a stark reminder of the difference between life and death, and how overwhelming and prolong the recovery process can be. Last summer, when the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida ripped through Pennsylvania, we saw thousands of properties damaged from flooding. And many families didn’t have the insurance needed to help them recover. In fact, a frequent comment emergency managers hear is, “I didn’t think I needed flood insurance” or “But it’s never flooded here.”
Where It Can Rain, It Can Flood
Pennsylvania is a varied state in terms of population, terrain, economies, and weather threats. Almost 75% of the counties in Pennsylvania are rural. However, Pennsylvania is also home to the 5th largest city in the United States. Preparedness also varies throughout the state because of this diversity. Rural communities often focus on self-reliance and being self-sufficient during emergencies or disasters due to the limited resources available to them on a regular basis. Conversely, in urban environments, the focus is on awareness of resources available to them before and during emergencies and disasters.
You can – and should – know your risks. You can visit the FEMA Flood Maps and the National Risk Index to get a sense of reported risks for your community. However, that’s not the whole story.
A common threat, regardless of rural, urban, or suburban locations, is flooding. While flooding risk was originally thought to be associated with living in or near a special flood hazard zone or flood plain (riverine flooding), we have data that paints a much different picture.
You don’t have to be in a flood zone – or even be in an area designated as having a 1% chance of flooding (100-year flood plain) in that area each year.
Anywhere it can rain, it can also flood. And we have a map that shows you that most flooding in Pennsylvania reported to the National Weather Service happened outside the 100-year flood zone!
To understand who is at risk of flooding and where, we recently plotted all the locations of flood reports that were made to the National Weather Service from 1993 through 2021.
Then we color coded the locations to better understand where the flooding occurred:
- Flood reports outside the FEMA 100-year floodplain area are marked red.
- Flood reports falling within FEMA 100-year floodplain are in green.
According to the map, approximately 90% of flooding in Pennsylvania that was reported to the National Weather Service occurred outside of the “FEMA 100-year flood plain.” The 100-year flood plain means there is a 1% chance of flooding in that area each year. This map shows that 90% of the flooding reported, occurred in areas where there is less than a 1% chance of flooding each year.
So, what does this mean for you, your loved ones, and your community?
Mitigating Your Flood Risk: Even If You Don’t Think You’re at Risk
In Pennsylvania, there are nearly 3.1 million insured homes, but fewer than 50,000 of those homes are covered for flood damages. Floods can happen anywhere — just one inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage, and flood insurance coverage can be the difference between recovery and financial devastation.
It is important to be aware that most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover damage caused by a flood. Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or from private insurers. You can purchase private flood insurance through providers licensed in Pennsylvania or through surplus lines carriers.
When purchasing flood insurance, it is important for you to consider the kind of coverage that you need. Insurers write different types of flood insurance policies: dwelling – which covers the structure of your home; and contents – which covers your personal property within the dwelling. For more information, including lists of private flood insurance companies and agents who discuss surplus lines, is available on the flood page of our website. Visit www.insurance.pa.gov under “Coverage” and select “Flood.”
How to Protect Yourself and Your Belongings – Regardless of the Risks You Face
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself, loved ones, and property is to know what risks you may encounter and start with simple yet important steps to mitigate damage before disasters strike.
Here’s What You Can Do to Get Started Now:
After every storm in the Commonwealth that includes an element of flooding, there are devastating stories from residents that thought they were covered for flood through their homeowners’ insurance policy. However, most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover flood damages, so it is essential that you review your coverage, prepare for potential hazards, and consider purchasing added flood insurance.
Flood insurance policies are not active immediately, so you shouldn’t wait until a storm is coming to protect yourself.
Homeowners who live in federally designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) are likely required to have flood insurance by their mortgage lenders.
A SFHA is defined by FEMA as an area that could be inundated by a flood event with a 1% chance of reaching or exceeding base flood elevations in a year. Sometimes it is called the “100” year flood area. Now… many people think “Hey, that means a flood could happen once every 100 years so I will roll that dice that that flood won’t happen during my time.” It actually means that there is a percent chance of a flood happening any given year. Not once every 100 years. So maybe a 1% annual chance is more accurate in explaining a SFHA. Or maybe an even better way to understand a special flood hazard area is that there is a 26% chance of a flood over a 30-year mortgage period.
Individuals looking to purchase new homes and properties should research before buying to determine if the area has had any previous flooding.
Regardless of whether disaster is flooding, snow, or even landslides, first responders and relief workers will try to quickly be on the scene. However, they may not be able to reach everyone immediately, meaning that help may arrive in hours or even days depending on the extent of damage. What would you do if your basic services: water, gas, electricity, or communications, were cut off? Make a list of what you will need, who you need to reach and how you will contact them. Even if you have physical limitations, you can still learn how to protect yourself and cope with disaster by planning in advance and by working with those in your support network: your family, neighbors, friends, and caregivers, as well as your local responders as a team.
3. Sign up for Ready, Set, Check!:
During September, the month dedicated to emergency preparedness, we encourage all Pennsylvanians and their families to be informed, prepared, involved and ready. We’ve developed the Ready, Set, Check! card. It will help you get started with the basics to help you protect yourself, loved ones, and belongings no matter when disasters strike. Sign up to receive your Ready, Set, Check! card and you will also be entered into the NPM raffle to win a Ready PA Preparedness Starter Kit that includes a wind-up radio/phone charger.
In the unfortunate event of a storm that causes flooding or other damages, there are resources available that can help guide the property owner through filing insurance claims and tips to avoid repair scams.
The After the Storm brochure, found online at insurance.pa.gov, includes tips such as:
- Contact the insurance company as soon as possible after the storm.
- Save all receipts.
- Take photographs or video before cleaning or making repairs.
- After documenting damage, make repairs needed to prevent further damage or to live in the home, but don’t make permanent repairs before insurance company inspects the damage and approves the repairs.
- If possible, determine what it will cost to repair the property before meeting with an insurance company representative who will assess the damage. If there is a disagreement on the offer made to repair the property, individuals should be prepared to negotiate.
Storms that cause damage to numerous homes and businesses throughout a community can be a magnet for dishonest contractors. The department provides several tips for consumers on how to avoid home repair scams, including how to hire home improvement contractors.
Consumers also have the option of hiring a public adjuster following an incident such as a storm, flood, fire, or tornado. A public adjuster is a person or business that helps a policy holder negotiate an insurance claim with the insurance company. Public adjusters are hired and paid for by the policy holder – they are not employees of the insurance company, and policy holders are not required to hire them following an incident.
Before hiring a public adjuster, the policy holder should ensure that the public adjuster is reputable, licensed, and that the payment requested is a rate they are able to afford. Most public adjusters have a contracted percentage payment rate of the total claim paid out by the insurance company.
The Pennsylvania Insurance Department licenses public adjusters in the Commonwealth. If you are thinking about hiring a public adjuster, you can confirm their license status at insurance.pa.gov.