Texas Coastal Atlas Valuable in Risk Assessment


In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation to the Gulf Coast, flood insurance has become a real hot potato. The federal flood insurance program has been allowed to expire twice, there’s great controversy about adding wind insurance to that coverage, and thousands of people on the Gulf Coast have yet to get their private insurance claims sorted out five years after the storm.

In Texas, Sam Brody, the head of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University has spent those same five years developing a spatial atlas of the state’s coastline with grants from the sate’s General Land Office, Sea Grant, and NOAA.

Essentially, his atlas illustrates the hazards of living on the coast, including such long-term factors as beach erosion. He takes the data down to individual houses per city block and considers land-use and development patterns, extrapolating future growth in the region. With one in four Texans living on the coast — in plentiful flood zones — and still trying to get home insurance, Brody’s work will likely revolutionize risk assessment for flood and wind insurance.

Including various “what if” scenarios, the atlas makes clear the risks of developing in a specific location before ground is even broken, a valuable tool in one of the fastest-growing coastal regions in America and a tool that could have great utility in other coastal regions as well.

To mangle a line from an old TV show — we have the technology. There’s no reason for homes to be built where they will be subject to catastrophic storm damage and no reason for viable insurance claims to be denied if the policies were written to valid risk scenarios in the first place. In the 21st century, Brody’s work is exactly what the insurance industry needs to refine the writing of policies — cutting edge research specific to a region rather than general assumptions that may or may not reflect realities on the ground.

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