On Memorial Day weekend, 1984, Tulsa, Okla. was assaulted with severe thunderstorms that resulted in major flooding, the logical conclusion to many years of overdevelopment in the floodplain. Over that Saturday night and Sunday morning, more than a foot of rain fell over what was then still known as the Oil Capitol of the World. Morning light shone on the devastation. Cars stacked on one another, homes destroyed by water (for many, not the first time), 14 people dead and 288 injured. The damages totaled $180 million in 1984 dollars.
This was the last time Tulsa suffered such a severe flood. In the years since, Tulsa implemented flood mitigation practices that took them from being known as the Nation’s Most Flooded City to becoming an award-winning benchmark city for stormwater management around the world. As a result of Tulsa’s national and global leadership in flood hazard mitigation, Tulsans currently enjoy a 40% discount off their National Flood Insurance policies. Part of that leadership included the drastic action of buying and either relocating or destroying more than 1,000 homes in the greatest danger within the floodplain. These were homes that had suffered repetitive losses, which means they had flooded and been rebuilt time and time and time again, all at taxpayer expense.
Under the wild success of the stormwater management practices implemented by the City of Tulsa, it is easy to become complacent, apathetic, forgetful even, of Tulsa’s stormy flood history. Many Tulsans today have no idea that they live, play, run, in areas that were once notorious for severe flooding. That blissful ignorance is both Tulsa’s great success and its great failure.
Because Tulsa will flood again someday, and Tulsans must be prepared for that eventuality. Tulsa is in the heart of Tornado Alley, the land of Freakish Weather Events. We enjoy tornadoes, hailstorms, microbursts, wildfires, earthquakes, ice attacks (Really! Ice attacks—see the Ice Storm of 2007), severe thunder and lightning storms, and yes, it still sometimes floods, though to a much lesser extent than in the past.
This week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are collaborating to create greater public awareness for National Flood Safety Awareness Week, March 18-22, 2013. Their goal, according to the media release, is to “improve understanding about flood risk among individuals, families, businesses and communities. Knowledge and the right precautions can protect families, homes and finances.”
Some of their recommendations:
• Purchase a flood insurance policy for your home.
• Learn about your flood risk.
• Don’t drive into water covered roadways.
Purchase a flood insurance policy for your home:
Since flood insurance policies take 30 days to go into effect, now would be the time to purchase one for your home. A homeowner doesn't have to live in the floodplain to purchase a flood insurance policy. According to FloodSmart.gov, people outside of high-risk areas file more than 20% of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims and receive one third of disaster assistance for flooding. Flood insurance is not offered by private insurance companies. However, the NFIP has an arrangement with private insurance companies to sell and service flood insurance policies, so your homeowner’s insurance agent is still the person to contact in order to purchase flood insurance. When considering flood insurance, keep in mind these basics:
• As mentioned, flood damage is not covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. And if a home is flooded, federal disaster assistance will not necessarily come to a homeowner’s rescue. Any federal assistance would usually take the form of a low interest loan to cover the damage, which the homeowner would be required to repay, and even that is only available if there is a presidentially-declared disaster. This is one very good reason to purchase a flood insurance policy.
• There is a difference between windstorm-related and flood-related water, and this is where things have historically sometimes gotten sticky if there has been a catastrophic storm with both types of water. Your homeowner’s insurance may cover wind-driven water, that is, water that comes in through a wind-damaged window or door, while your flood insurance policy covers overflow of inland or tidal waters, and rapidly rising waters from any source such as a creek or pond. The big “but” here is that the flood, according to FloodSmart.gov, “must be a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or two or more properties (at least one of which is yours).” Many homeowners go through the frustrating experience of the NFIP claiming the water is “wind-driven” while the homeowner’s insurance agency may contend it to be “flood-related” (rising water from a nearby source).
This common conflict has now been addressed in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, by establishing a formula for NFIP and wind insurers to pay where property damage cannot be attributed to wind or water. This formula will help resolve long-standing conflicts and avoid future lawsuits.
• Contrary to the way it sounds, the Hundred Year Flood is not a flood so bad it only happens once every hundred years. It’s a badly named term to describe the fact that a site may have a 1% probability of a flood occurring there within any given year. FEMA has recently gone to calling it the “1% Annual Chance Flood.”
• If your community participates in the Community Ratings System (CRS), you may be eligible for discounts on your flood insurance policy. Ask your community floodplain manager or your insurance agent about CRS discounts.
Learn about your flood risk by calling your local public works department and requesting a flood hazard determination for your property. Your insurance agent should be able to provide additional information.
Don’t drive into water-covered roadways. Turn Around Don’t Drown! Flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., killing nearly 200 people each year. More than 50% of those are vehicle-related, according to Floodsafety.com, a product of the Flood Safety Education Project. In the 1984 Tulsa Memorial Day Flood, all 14 people who died were driving through flooded streets and lost control of their cars. No matter how well you know the area, if you can’t see your road because it is covered in water, then you have no way of knowing the road is still there. And less than two feet of water is all it takes to float a car.
“A weather-ready nation is a prepared nation,” said Dr. Louis W. Uccellini, director, NOAA’s National Weather Service, “one that will reduce flood losses by planning ahead, staying abreast of weather forecasts, and heeding the warnings.”
As National Flood Safety Awareness Week commences, FEMA and NOAA will provide the public with key information on how to protect you and your property from flooding.
For more information on the National Flood Insurance Program, visit www.floodsmart.gov.