Getting Ready for Climate Change

Gale Flags Are Flying!

Is your condo or building ready for a climate change future?  Currently we are in the middle of a hurricane season predicted to be one of the worst in recent times in terms of both frequency and severity of future storms.  Prior to June when the hurricane season started, Maine’s Superintendent of Insurance, Eric Cioppa, recommended homeowners purchase flood insurance this year even for those unit properties considered historically to be outside the federally designated flood zones.  This comes after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported flood claim data since 2014 showing 40% of claims have been generated outside of the high-risk flood areas.

Rising Sea Levels & Tidal Surges

The real problem is that future climate changes will cause rising sea levels and monster storms like Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene.  Prior to Tropical Storm Irene, most Vermont condo owners gave very little thought to water damage caused by a hurricane, yet both Irene and Sandy caused wide-spread damage deep into Vermont.  Most property owners along the southern New England shore would not have thought a storm with max gusts of only 94 mph could have caused so much water damage to properties located in protected harbors and inlets. However, it has been found that future long-duration storms like Irene and Sandy will cause massive tidal surges well inland.  The new mega storms like Sandy have radically changed the method of predicting storm damage.

The newest published flood maps provide *some* assurance of reliability due to highly accurate topological maps created by aerial photography.  However, these flood maps do not confirm your particular building’s relationship to future high water from rising ocean surges or the swelling of inland rivers and streams.  These maps can paradoxically provide a false sense of security by giving insurance companies inaccurate data causing them to overcharge for flood insurance.  For this reason, before the community’s board or unit owner rushes out to buy flood insurance, it may be prudent to check with local land surveyors or civil engineers to confirm the local municipality has your property in the correct flood risk zone.

If a potential flood zoning error is found for your property, your next step is to file a Letter of Map Adjustment (LOMA) with FEMA.  A licensed land surveyor or professional engineer can make a topographical survey of the property and determine the elevation of the corners of the building above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and locate the building on the topographic site plan using GPS coordinates.  With this site plan, photos, and other data, your surveyor can file a federal form with FEMA requesting a LOMA.  If you are successful, your property will be granted the requested re-zoning.

Risk Management Considerations for Climate Change

Insurance planning should be supplemented with both storm and non-flood disaster planning.  Different types of buildings have different risks requiring planning to be customized for specific needs.  As an example: multi-story buildings have higher risks of fire and internal flooding, resort properties have higher rates of absentees, and senior living condos have special evacuation needs.  Amenities such as marinas, tennis courts, clubhouses, pools, retention ponds, and dams can have a significant impact on the plan.

Even at this point in the hurricane season, it is still not too late for the board to prepare a storm damage plan to consider the following:

      1. Determine if the insurance carrier provides disaster training and materials.
      2. Photographic record of the status of all common assets.
      3. Property management coordination.
      4. Safeguarding important condo documents.
      5. Ledger of assets – written and digital.
      6. Communication plan – elderly and special needs, absentees, etc.
      7. Emergency equipment available – condo and resident owned.
      8. Lines of authority.
      9. Evacuation plan.
      10. Insurance audit.
      11. Vendor and contractor call list.
      12. Recovery plan.

The common need of all building owners is protection of their net worth.  After any disaster, the impact on market value and sale potential must be considered.  It should never be assumed just because everything has been brought back to ‘as good as it was’ before the disaster, the real estate market perceives this to be the case.  The association may need to make very positive steps to approach the local real estate professionals to clearly demonstrate the good physical state of the current condo complex.  This could include certified inspection reports or lab test results or whatever it takes to make market perception be the reality.     

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-APCriterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media August 2020 edition
Download a PDF Version of this Condo Media Article