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Flood Risk Model Made Public


Flood Risk Model Made Public

By: Adam M. Matheny

Flood Lab

First Street Foundation has recently launched “Flood Lab.” This is a research partnership designed to make public a flood risk model that can be used to predict the possibility of flooding across the U.S.  The foundation, which is based in New York, will be providing this model free to eight universities. This is the first time a model of this type has been made available to the public.

The universities involved, in exchange for this unprecedented access, will be conducting targeted research into the impact of flooding on the United States real estate market. They will also be looking at the implications flooding holds for low income and disadvantaged communities. Other questions that they’ll address include the costs of flooding at state, local, and federal levels.

Experts from a number of institutions will collaborate on the project, including those from:

  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of Georgia
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of Texas, Austin
  • Vrijie Universiteit, Amsterdam
  • University of Washington
  • Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes CenterOne of the foundation’s primary objectives is seeing flood risks properly calculated and then applied to various financial instruments, including insurance rates, land use decisions, mortgages, and others.The flood modeling firm Fathom has worked hand in hand with First Street to funnel flood related risk information to property owners, data which pertains to their own properties. Its database went live last June.There are other flood models available to firms, banks, and insurers, these models have been made available on a for-profit basis—and generally not to researchers. Currently, Risk Management Solutions, AIR Worldwide, and CoreLogic are some of the largest sellers of flood data. First Street would like to see a shift in that market.They consider the current flood information market to represent a dangerous asymmetry—one that they would like to disrupt by making it available to other experts for analysis, as well as the public. This asymmetry, they argue, makes it possible for wealthy investors to capitalize on climate change. It disempowers other Americans who have a significant need to prepare for the future.The researchers who will receive the data have numerous projects in the planning stage, including:
    • Whether or not—and how—banks are shifting climate risk to taxpayers
    • The influence over Congress that real estate developers wield when determining U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects like levees, seawalls, and so forth.
    • The relationship, if any, between socioeconomics, demographics, and flood risk exposure.
    • Examination of housing market responses to increasing risks of floods
    • Comparing the data to FEMA’s maps to determine whether FEMA is over- or underestimating flood risks in certain urban areas will be a public resource for accessing the Foundation’s home value data as well as its tidal flooding information. For more detailed access, applications can be made at

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