Report warns R.I. properties could see insurance premiums spike under updated flood risk

RHODE ISLAND PROPERTIES would see their flood insurance premiums increase 150% if rates were adjusted to reflect the true financial risk of flooding, according to a new report. Pictured is flooding from 2010, events like which are more likely to happen across the state and country due to the impacts of climate change. / PBN FILE PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD

PROVIDENCE – More than 5,000 Rhode Island property owners would see flood insurance premiums increase 150% if federal flood programs were updated to reflect the the full costs of structural and financial losses due to flood damage, according to a new report published on Monday.

The report, published by the N.Y.-based nonprofit research group First Street Foundation, details the increasing financial risk posed by flooding across the country, including data broken down by state. The research follows a study released by the same organization last year which warned that millions more properties faced “substantial flooding risk” than those identified in the Federal Emergency Management Agency Maps.

Now, new analysis finds that not only do FEMA maps fail to account for some of the many factors that can contribute to flooding, but the inaccuracies in risk assessment also mean the premiums fail to cover the full extent of financial losses due to flooding. 

In Rhode Island, the 5,000-plus properties threatened with a 1% annual flood risk face a combined $13.3 million in financial loss in 2021, for an average of $2,647 per property. By 2051, climate change effects worsen and more properties become at risk, the per-property loss swells by 39% to $3,680, the report found. Yet current premiums charged by the long struggling National Flood Insurance Program fail to capture the financial risk, both short and long-term, the report said.

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Properties in federally designated Special Flood Hazard Areas, for example, pay an average $1,846 premium, but face an average annual loss of $4,609. Properties outside of these specially designated areas, but still at risk for flooding, are also underprotected, with an average annual property loss of $1,230 but just $480 in insurance premiums.

To rectify these coverage disparities, the insurance program premiums would have to increase 150%, the report stated.

The findings come amid a major overhaul of FEMA’s risk rating and corresponding insurance prices, with a new “Risk Rating 2.0” system set to debut in October. How much that will affect premiums, if at all, is unknown.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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