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Six months after Hurricane Sandy, we surveyed homeowners in New York City who live in a flood-prone area about their flood risk perceptions and flood insurance purchases. The survey is part of a research program in conjunction with the Zurich flood resilience alliance that seeks to improve community flood resilience. The survey was completed by 1,035 people who own a home with a ground floor in a flood-prone area of New York City.

All respondents should have an interest in flood insurance if they perceive the flood risk accurately.

FLOOD RISK PERCEPTION: Most respondents perceive the flood risk to be high: 86% of the respondents believe that they live in a flood-prone area. However, most underestimate the damage a flood could cause. Only 9% of responders correctly assess the risk compared to experts’ estimates (within a 25% margin of error).

People tend to overestimate their flood probability and underestimate the flood damage they would suffer.

IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE: Over 40% of respondents expect that climate change will not increase their flood risk in the future. This finding suggests that many people are not in line with the scientific consensus about the projected climate change impact of increased storm surge and sea level rise on flood risk in New York City.
FLOOD INSURANCE PURCHASE: 44% of respondents stated they purchased flood insurance because it was mandatory. Only 21% bought flood insurance voluntarily, 33% did not have coverage, and 2% did not know whether they had flood coverage. Compared with uninsured homeowners, those who voluntarily purchased flood insurance worry more about flooding.

On average, these insured homeowners have higher expectations of both the flood probability and flood damage relative to the uninsured respondents.

We suggest two measures to correct individuals’ risk perception and encourage them to purchase insurance protection when needed:

Instead of framing the chances of a flood as 1-in-100 in any given year, inform residents that the chances are greater than 1-in-5 (20%) of flooding in the next 25 years.

Highlight the financial consequences if a flood occurs and the homeowner is uninsured.


Wharton Center for Risk Management and Decision Processes – Three decades of catastrophe management research 3730 Walnut Street, Suite 500, Philadelphia, PA 19104 ~

Homeowners might be more likely take protective actions if they realize how bad a flood would be, rather than focusing only on probability.

FEMA flood maps currently depict only the likelihood of a flood without depicting the resulting damage should