Vehicle Flood Loss Needs a Strategy

October 2, 2015 Nor'easter Catches Norfolk Motorist

October 2, 2015 Nor'easter Catches Norfolk Motorist

Nearly all the talk on flooding and mitigation involves real estate and property damage. Very rarely is the issue of vehicle damage and loss discussed in flood mitigation planning. Much of that is because there is are federal, state, and local programs dealing with real property flood losses. To be eligible for the federal government National Flood Insurance Program a locality has to have flood plain plans, ordinances, etc. but they mostly deal with real estate protection. Vehicles are privately insured so there is no requirement to develop comprehensive plans to prevent auto losses. However, Hurricane Harvey is showing the extent of those losses, highlighting the need to start dealing with them.

Vehicle losses are largely preventable because, unlike houses, you can move your car to higher ground - or the elevated public garages that most cities open as flood events approach. As long as you don't drive onto flooded sections of road - like the car above - you can protect your car.

Preventing vehicle loss, however, is more complicated and expensive than real estate flood protection. Road inundation information is not comprehensively reported nor is location of auto losses. (We are trying to deal with the road inundation mapping with our smart phone app.)

Elevating low-lying sections of road is expensive and paying for the work falls mostly on state and local government transportation budgets. There is no dedicated transportation flooding adaptation funding anywhere at the state or federal level, so this work competes with regular transportation maintenance projects. Federal funding to address these needs comes AFTER a flood event in the form of disaster relief.

The city of Norfolk, VA spent $1.2 million in 2010 raising one block to fix the flooding in one residential neighborhood. It spent $2.4 million raising a 200 yard stretch of a major downtown road 2 1/2 feet to prevent flooding. Luckily Norfolk has a plan, so that these projects fit into their larger adaptation puzzle. But no city has a comprehensive way of addressing vehicle losses due to flooding.

Auto flood losses are more widespread than house and business flooding, with nearly 50 % of households reporting flood loss citing auto damage/loss, according to a recent study done in Portsmouth, VA. And insurance companies are starting to notice. Just an anecdote but I recently heard from a person whose auto insurance company refused her renewal because her street address showed too many surrounding auto flood losses.

If we're going to get a handle on adaptation costs and needs, we need to start dealing with the auto damage and loss piece of the puzzle.