A key dif­fer­ence from FEMA is First Street in­cor­po­rates his­tor­i­cal cli­mate and in­surance data.


prop­erty, whether it comes from high tides, rain­fall, rivers or hur­ri­cane storm surge. Fu­ture risk cal­cu­la­tions are based on the set of sce­nar­ios used by the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change.

Past ef­forts have fo­cused on sep­a­rate mod­els for each risk.

“The thing that we did that’s unique is we not only pulled that to­gether and cre­ated this model at the prop­erty level that hadn’t been done be­fore, then we also ad­justed it into the fu­ture,” said Matthew Eby, First Street’s founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

A key dif­fer­ence from FEMA’s ap­proach is that First Street in­cor­po­rates his­tor­i­cal cli­mate and in­surance claim in­for­ma­tion, as well as fu­ture cli­mate pro­jec­tions from the cli­mate change panel. FEMA de­vel­ops reg­u­la­tory flood maps based on his­tor­i­cal data alone.

First Street also in­cluded flood­mit­i­gat­ing in­fra­struc­ture in its model, such as lev­ees, beach nour­ish­ment projects and wet­land restora­tion projects.

The es­ti­mates of numbers of prop­er­ties at risk un­der First Street’s model ver­sus FEMA’s maps dif­fer dra­mat­i­cally in many ar­eas of the coun­try, with FEMA un­der­es­ti­mat­ing risk in the ma­jor­ity of the U.S. and over­es­ti­mat­ing it in some pock­ets.

For ex­am­ple, in Cook County, Illi­nois, which en­com­passes the city of Chicago, about 25,000 prop­er­ties fall within FEMA’s flood risk area. First Street’s model shows roughly 150,000 prop­er­ties – 11% of prop­er­ties in the county – are at risk. By 2050, an ad­di­tional 11,000 prop­er­ties will be at risk.

In some Gulf com­mu­ni­ties, First Street’s es­ti­mates are in line with or lower than FEMA. In Port Arthur, Texas, the group es­ti­mates 15% of prop­er­ties are at risk, com­pared with 17% un­der FEMA’s maps. But by 2050, First Street es­ti­mates as many as 96% of prop­er­ties will be at risk for flood­ing.

The foun­da­tion’s method­ol­ogy is still un­der­go­ing peer re­view. Three in­de­pen­dent ex­perts re­viewed and ap­proved of the model be­fore its re­lease.

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