FEMA publishes flood insurance claim records going back to 1978

“New York City, USA – October 31, 2012: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy the Battery Park Underpass is seen completely flooded along the West Street entrance looking north in Lower Manhattan.”

On June 11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published data covering more than 2 million flood insurance claim records going back to 1978 on its OpenFEMA website. This is a giant leap towards helping scientists, policy-makers, and the public understand how the national Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) works, where flood damages occur, and what the costs are to the nation.

“This data demonstrates FEMA’s commitment to build a culture of preparedness by providing insights to our stakeholders that can help close the nation’s insurance gap,” said Dr. Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA’s Deputy Administrator for Resilience, in a news release. That gap is quite sizable: FEMA estimates that only 3 percent of homeowners have flood insurance.

Private insurers, who have been carefully getting back into covering flooding in recent years should be able to use the data to grow in the flood insurance space. “The private market will now be able to identify areas with prior flood claims and historical flood insurance policies,” said David Maurstad, FEMA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance and Mitigation.

As useful as these data could be, the dataset does not include the exact addresses of affected buildings, to protect policyholders’ privacy. It does include ZIP code-level data on where policyholders received payments. A home buyer might not be able to learn the full history of flood risk for a property, as this South Carolina Post and Courier article points out.

However, the published data do enable analysis of how coverage has changed in a geographic area, and where NFIP claims have been filed for more than 40 years. Information such as: state, census tract, ZIP code, year of loss, and amount paid on claims are included. The dataset will be updated every 45 to 60 days and delivers the most specific amount of geographic data possible.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has already used the data to create this animation showing the location of every NFIP claim in the contiguous United States, from 1970 through 2018.

[embedded content]

The I.I.I. has more insights about flood insurance here.