New website guides potential buyers on environmental hazards such as wind and flooding
ASU Faculty Contribute to Massive Gulf States Property Database
A three-bedroom home with a dock is for sale on the Lafitte Coast, Louisiana, near a marina and seafood restaurant, for $160,000, according to a popular real estate app.
What the app doesn’t tell you is that the person buying this home will likely face costs of around $6,232 per year due to environmental hazards like wind and rain. And government financial assistance after the storm is uncertain.
This valuable information can be found on a new website called HazardAware, based on research from several institutions, including Arizona State University.
Melanie Gall, clinical professor and co-director of ASU’s Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and Natasha Mendoza, associate professor in the School of Social Work, are part of a team that developed HazardAware, a new tool to help Gulf states that landlords, as well as tenants and buyers, assess a property’s risk and make informed decisions.
HazardAware can provide disaster risk reports for 13.3 million addresses in nearly 200 counties along the Gulf of Mexico, including all of Florida and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and from Texas.
HazardAware, which took three years to create, was made possible by a $3.4 million grant from the Gulf Research Program, which is funded by the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil spill settlements in 2010.
“Zillow gives you information on the cost of a house and an estimate for home insurance and maybe monthly mortgage payments, and you get an idea of the financial burden if you buy that house,” said Gall, who is also an affiliate faculty member of ASU’s School of Geographic Sciences and Urban Planning.
“But you have no idea what context you’re putting yourself in or what risk you’re taking. What this amount does not take into account is how much it costs to recover when hit by a disaster.
“That’s where our website comes in.”
People can enter an address and HazardAware provides a huge amount of information:
- Summary of risk costs for one, five and 30 years – the amount a homeowner would have to pay to repair damage caused by environmental hazards.
- A breakdown of the cost. For example, of the $6,232 that Lafitte homeowners might expect to spend per year on disasters, $6,216 would be for wind damage, with the rest for storms and hail.
- Community risk factors. The Lafitte community has poor infrastructure, which includes things like hospital beds, temporary shelters, escape routes, and broadband access.
- Ways to mitigate risk on a property. Homeowner Lafitte could make sure his insurance covers wind damage, then install impact-resistant glass and reinforce the garage doors.
- Possible future risks, such as more frequent or severe hurricanes or floods.
- Historical risk in the community.
- The rejection rate of claims filed with FEMA (55% for the Lafitte district for owners, and 60% for tenants.)
- A list of tips for potential buyers and renters, such as how to find out how many flood insurance claims have been filed in the community.
All of this data is compiled into a resilience score for the property, from 1, the lowest level of resilience, to 100.
Many factors go into the resilience score, and the results are not always expected. A $2 million home for sale directly on the beach in Galveston, Texas has a score of 71 — quite resilient — due to the community’s high resilience and because it was built in 2017 with a new building code.
Lafitte House had a resilience score of 32. One reason is that it was built in 2000, before building codes were updated to improve wind and flood resistance.
The team that built HazardAware came from several institutions besides ASU: University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University, University of Florida, University of New Orleans , Louisiana State University, the University of South Carolina, the Louisiana Sea Grant organization, and the Rand Corp.
Gall said the team was still working on the site.
“At the moment it is a site for the general public thinking about residential use, but we are also working on building a part that focuses more on stakeholders like planners or emergency managers. who don’t want information about a building, but are interested in a regional interpretation,” she said.
“They could look at which area of their city houses have the lowest score or where there is a combination of low scores and demographic information.”
Other upgrades may include a way for owners to indicate that they have made mitigating changes to their properties.
“For example, if a house had a massive renovation project and was elevated, we wouldn’t know from the baseline information we have,” she said.
Gall said the project was like a potluck.
“Everyone brought their expertise and data, and the challenge for us was to think about how to combine and communicate that,” she said.
Gall provided disaster loss data. She has worked on SHELDUS, or Space Loss and Event Database for the United States, since she was a doctoral student at the University of South Carolina. She brought SHELDUS, which tracks events such as thunderstorms, flash floods, weather-related deaths and county-level property loss, with her when she came to ASU in 2017. FEMA and the Environmental Protection Agency are subscribers to SHELDUS, which has recently been updated and is financially self-sustaining.
Mendoza was part of a team that administered an online survey to Gulf state residents that determined how best to present information for people to use. This is how they decided on a resilience score.
Last week, a house on the shore in North Carolina collapsed on the sand after being pummeled by a storm for several days. The owner, who bought the house nine months ago, told the Washington Post, “I didn’t realize how vulnerable she was.” This is despite dire warnings from many federal agencies about rising sea levels.
That’s the attitude HazardWare faces, Gall said.
“You see it all the time – people moving to Flagstaff who have never heard of wildfires,” she said.
“We want to shorten the time to raise awareness about where you live and the dangers you face and what to do about it.”
Gall said she hopes the platform can be expanded to include other parts of the country.
“The approach makes it easy to add other hazards like wildfire and heat,” she said.
“I hope we find a mechanism to do this, and we would like to explore partnerships with companies like Zillow or Redfin to integrate into their applications.”
Image from top of Key West, Florida courtesy of Pixabay