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Drowning in problems: floods threaten properties and owners' security.

Floods don't discriminate. They can happen anywhere, at any time. And just one inch of water can cause costly damage to a property.

Protecting a property against flooding can be as simple as using sandbags as a shield or purchasing flood insurance. But for most property owners, it usually takes a large flood to change one's perspective.

"It's human nature," said Jason Smith, president of Presray, a company that designs flood protection products. "Most people do the prevention after they've been flooded."

High waters, high risk

Assuming a property won't flood is risky, considering everyone lives in varying degrees of a flood zone--ranging from less than 1 percent of flooding each year to a 26 percent chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage, according to information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Ron Davis, an Illinois state mitigation officer for FEMA, said an at-grade structure in a 100-year flood plain has a 30 percent chance of flooding during its 30-year mortgage: The chance of fire occurring during that same time period is 1 percent.

To combat flooding, property owners should first identify the level of flood zone in which they live. FEMA has separated the zones into four categories--low-to-moderate, high, high-coastal areas and undetermined risk areas. Knowing if a property is in a flood plain is also important. Flood plains border rivers and are mostly made up of river sediment deposited by floods.

"The number one thing I tell people is to avoid living in a flood plain: Those areas are more at risk," Davis said. "Avoid those areas and you'll be better off."

Being familiar with the property's flood history is also beneficial, said Phillip Letsinger, North Carolina's National Flood Insurance Program coordinator. He said the FEMA flood zone maps help determine the level of risk and how it corresponds to the level of flood proofing necessary for that structure.

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Shield properties from damage

One level of flood proofing involves using shields--a viable action in protecting properties. Letsinger said during Hurricane Floyd in the Carolinas, many older buildings relied on sand bags and plastic covering for shields. Sealing openings like low windows, improving exterior walls and elevating buildings above projected flood levels also helps, according to FEMA information.

With new products available like water-tight doors and hatches and flood gates in the form of floor and wall panels, prevention is more about shielding than revamping an older structure or modifying how new structures are built, Smith of Presray said.

"When building a building, people are spending millions to elevate it above flood waters," Smith said. "Building it higher means more stairs which is a hardship for the older clients. What we're saying is don't build it up, build the building at grade. Those buildings can sell for higher prices, and all you have to do is just use flood barriers."

Presray designs reusable, dry flood-proofing products aimed at keeping water out and has recently started targeting smaller scale properties like houses. Smith said the company sends out engineers to walk the property and make recommendations specific to the needs of the facility.

Survival of the fittest

In addition to treating a property with the proper flood-prevention equipment, FEMA officials recommend purchasing flood insurance. Insurance costs are more affordable in low-risk flood plains and when owners use flood-proofing measures.

High-risk areas, however, are not the only areas hurt by floods: Between 20 and 25 percent of flood insurance claims come from low- or medium-flood risk areas.

New land developments can also increase flood risk, especially if the construction changes natural runoff paths, according to FEMA information.

"If it's new construction, protect it way above the minimum," Letsinger said. "That will reduce your probability of loss and reduce your insurance rates."

The National Flood Insurance Program offers a lower-cost protection option for residential and non-residential properties called the Preferred Risk Policy. Through this policy, business owners can buy $50,000 of contents coverage per building for $500 a year; and business owners who lease their space can purchase $50,000 of contents coverage for $121 per year.

Because federal disaster assistance can't be guaranteed, Letsinger said a flood insurance claim check is the best recovery tool, and it's faster than disaster assistance. He said property owners should invest in flood insurance immediately upon acquiring a property because of a 30-day waiting period requirement for flood insurance.

If the natural disasters in 2005 taught property managers and owners anything, it was to be prepared for everything and to expect the worst.

"Floods and storms often exceed that [flood] probability, and sometimes maps are wrong or old or outdated," Davis of FEMA said. "Everyone has a responsibility to evaluate their own risk."

But again, as with most insurance, he said people don't realize they need it until it's too late.

"You might only have a flood once every ten years or not even be aware of flooding in the past, but it takes just one time," he said. "Couches and rugs can be replaced. What can't be [replaced] are photos and mementos. That's what's real heartbreaking. There's a piece of mind you get with insurance."

Amanda Kaschube is a contributing writer for JPM. Questions regarding this article can be sent to kgunderson@irem.org

RELATED ARTICLE: Just Checking

FEMA officials recommend homeowners and property managers consider the following small-scale checklist:

* Are electric switchboxes, outlets and switches located above potential floodwaters?

* Are the furnace, water heater, washer and dryer located above potential floodwaters?

* Does the floor drain have a float plug?

* Does the sewer system have a backflow valve?

Need more information?

For more information, go to the National Flood Insurance Program's Web site at www.floodsmart.gov. This Web site will help you determine your flood risk, estimate your premium and find an agent, among other things.
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Author:Kaschube, Amanda
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:970
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