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Norfolk To Launch Online Tool Showing Properties’ Flood Vulnerability

Photo by WHRO. Flooding in Norfolk.
Photo by WHRO. Flooding in Norfolk.
Norfolk To Launch Online Tool Showing Properties’ Flood Vulnerability

The city of Norfolk will launch a new online tool Sunday to better show people how vulnerable their homes are to flooding and how they can reduce it. 

Typical flood risk maps include an aerial view of neighborhoods and show water spreading around streets and yards during a flood. But the maps don’t show the depth of the floodwater or account for differences in the topography around homes.

Norfolk’s new Flood Risk Learning Center, by comparison, will include a front-door view of homes, consider ground-floor elevations and show how structures could actually flood during a rain event.

“The reason why this is important is because we can have a dozen houses in the same flood zone,” said Matthew Simons, a Norfolk floodplain administrator. “Without knowing further, you might not know that, ‘Okay well this house is at much greater risk than that because of the topography.’”

As southeast Virginia experiences more intense flooding and sea level rise due to climate change, the Flood Risk Learning Center is another effort around Hampton Roads to educate residents about flooding. Last summer, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission launched a different online platform that shows residents how much it would cost to purchase flood insurance.

The commission recommends the region prepare for at least 1.5 feet of sea level by 2050 and 3 feet by 2080. Much of Norfolk is already less than 12 feet above sea level

The city's new tool, which will be a stand-alone website, will cover most single-family, duplex and triplex homes around Norfolk. Users will be able to search their home address and find information specific to their property. 

In addition to showing people their flood vulnerability, the Flood Risk Learning Center will recommend ways they can make their homes more resistant to flooding — such as installing flood events or elevating air conditioner compressors.

Simons said officials have spent the last two years building the tool in partnership with the software firm Civis Analytics. Officials decided to create it because normal flood maps provide little information about individual properties’ flood risk. Norfolk residents have also told city officials they don’t like using maps to learn about their homes’ vulnerability to flooding.

“A lot of attention is lost on this because a lot of people just aren’t map people,” Simons said. “Whenever we showed the picture of the house, that’s when we saw the ‘ah-ha’ moment occur for a lot of folks.”

The Flood Risk Learning Center will show users a picture of the front of their homes. Superimposed on that will be the depth of a flood depending on the home’s elevation, proximity to a water body and scale of the rain event. Residents will be able to see how much water could potentially fill their homes.

“I can clearly and emphatically say this will help people better grasp their flood risk,” said Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a local nonprofit working to address flooding.

Simons said the city will monitor traffic on the new website to see how people use it. If the tool is popular, Simons said it could expand around Hampton Roads.

Correction: This post was updated on March 15 to reflect that Norfolk partnered with the software firm Civis Analytics, not Civis Analysis. 

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