South Florida Company Uses Data to Predict Whether Your House Will Be Underwater in 30 Years
Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr creative commons
Everybody knows climate change is a threat – but is it a threat your house? And if so, exactly how much of a threat?
Albert Slap had an idea: compiling data into a program so that individual South Florida homeowners could go online and search their property's risk of sea-level rise — and make this service available at a modest price. Slap, co-founder of Coastal Risk Consulting, a Plantation-based sea-level rise adaptation firm, spoke to his team of scientists and experts. Then he spoke to the software developers. It was doable.
That was October 2014. Last month, the company unveiled the dreamed-about feature on its website, www.coastalriskrapidassessment.com. For $99, a person can look up any address in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties and determine its risk of flooding from sea-level rise over the next 30 years, the length of a standard mortgage.
“We didn’t invent predictive geospatial modeling,” Slap explains. “We were the first, though, to take all the databases, put in on a cloud, and run it and sell it for under $100.”
The report computes a “flood score,” a number predicts the risk on a scale of 1 to 1000. It's like a credit score, except it's based on how many “flood days,” or how many days the property is below sea level, a year.
“We’re a pro-consumer byproduct,” Slap says. “We’re a science company, not an advocacy group.”
Slap is a renowned environmental lawyer who made a small fortune during his 40-year career defending high profile cases. For example, he represented the Environmental Protection Agency in a suit against Miami-Dade County, when the county did not raise its sewers in anticipation of sea-level rise.
To argue his cases, Slap would use experts to testify. That's how he met Leonard Berry, a well-known climate change author and the director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies. In 2014, Berry asked Slap if he wanted to start a consulting firm focusing on sea level rise adaptation. Slap was recently retired and agreed, using his retirement as the start-up capital.
They hired a team of distinguished scientists, including Brian Soden, the University of Miami professor and lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore), and Keren Bolter, a geoscientist specializing in mapping and a research coordinator at the FAU Center for Environmental Studies.
The company launched in 2014, working mostly on consulting projects, advising communities how to build in preparation for sea level rise. Then, Slap had his light-bulb moment about digitizing their data. Now, Coastal Risk Consulting works with everyday homeowners, small engineering firms, and multimillion-dollar companies like Atlantic Broadband.
Slap expects real-estate listing sites like Zillow to begin incorporating their firm’s flood scores. With the impending doom of sea-level rise, Slap thinks banks will also need to know a property’s flood score before doling out a mortgage. He has even trademarked the term “FloodFacts” and hopes it will eventually work like CarFacts, a feature that's free for users (and derives income from licensing fees from sites that use it).
“Nobody gets a mortgage without a FICO credit score, and if it’s weaker, you pay more interest,” Slap says. “We’re doing a FICO flood score. If you have a low score, the bank might be able to give you a better interest rate.”
The reports are easy to understand and color-coded based on risk. For example, the Fort Lauderdale City Hall is currently listed as medium risk. Its first flood day isn’t expected until 2023. However, according to the report, if no preventative planning is taken, that number will soar to 53 flood days a year by 2045.
“This is a screening tool,” says Keren Bolter, a geoscientist at Coastal Risk Consulting. “It might be different for each person, but everyone has a threshold for when flooding becomes intolerable. This is a way to plan when to start taking action.”
Slap hopes that eventually, his firm will expand to other cities in the United States, probably starting with the lowest-lying, like Norfolk, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts.
“The number of people who are going to need this information will be astronomical,” Slap says. “We’re eventually going to take it around the world.”
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