Helping Businesses Protect Against Growing Inland Flooding Risk

Calibrating your hurricane response plan

This past August, for only the third time in recorded history, two storms with the potential to become hurricanes churned simultaneously in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although Hurricane Marco was downgraded to a tropical storm before reaching shore, Hurricane Laura followed quickly, making landfall as a Category 4 storm. Scientists at the National Hurricane Center initially estimated that Laura’s storm surges could reach as far as 40 miles inland.

As Laura exemplified, inland flooding from extreme weather events is becoming more common. In 2017, for example, Hurricanes Maria and Harvey caused significant damage in inland areas, with catastrophe modeling firm RMS estimating that 90% of Harvey’s insured losses resulted from inland flooding.

When it comes to hurricanes, inland flooding should now be expected. As we look ahead to the second half of this year’s hurricane season and to future storm seasons, here are some of the ways in which businesses can protect themselves from the dangers of inland flooding.  

Shoreline Proximity Doesn’t Mean Property Protection

There are a few reasons why inland businesses are increasingly susceptible to flooding. The first involves more ferocious storms. The second is a lack of awareness around flood map nuances, most notably that FEMA flood maps were not designed to account for flooding tied to excessive rainfall. The third has to do with a greater number of properties being at risk—new findings from the First Street Foundation revealed that there are six million more properties prone to flooding than originally thought. Many of these newly vulnerable properties include those in non-Gulf or coastal communities, including Philadelphia and New York City.

Put simply, businesses can’t rely on physical proximity to the shoreline when it comes to assessing risk exposure. Distance in and of itself cannot be a risk management tactic.

Assess, Prepare and Execute

Once inland businesses understand their flood exposure, they can take the next steps to mitigate risk and minimize damage. This process starts with building a Flood Emergency Response Plan (FERP).

FERPs should be developed ahead of any weather threat and outline how to keep employees, property and assets safe. The more comprehensive FERPs are, the better. FERPs should cover everything from water diversion tactics and document storage plans to shut down procedures and contingency arrangements for critical systems and suppliers. As part of the broader FERP discussion, businesses should also evaluate their flood insurance needs.

However, FERPs are no substitute for staying vigilant. If a storm is approaching, organizations should put final preparedness plans into motion. There are online resources available to walk businesses through this process, but critical elements include:

  • Securing rack structures and shelving
  • Inspecting roofs and flashings to ensure they are secure
  • Relocating valuable documents and equipment to higher floors
  • Deploying sandbags, flood doors or flood shields
  • Strapping down water-resistant tarps to any equipment that can’t be relocated, and
  • Boarding or shuttering doors and windows.

Plan for the Expected

While no one can predict what the remainder of the 2020 hurricane season will bring, one thing is for sure: almost all businesses, no matter their proximity to the coastline, are at potential risk of flooding. Now is the time for organizations to better assess and understand their exposures to inland flooding, ensure their risk management plans are in place, and take the necessary protection measures.


Matt Booker is Senior Vice President, U.S. Property Underwriting Manager for Chubb Major Accounts.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.