By Madeline Urbish
An innovative tool has been introduced in the world of flood risk management that has the potential to democratize coastal resiliency planning. Coastal Risk Consulting, LLC (CRC) recently launched its Coastal Risk Rapid Assessment(TM) tool, which measures the frequency and impact of non-storm flooding on a given parcel of land. For a fraction of normal flood risk assessment pricing, CRC advertises that it can provide property owners non-storm flooding predictions over the lifetime of a typical mortgage. CRC’s ultimate goal is to help the coastal communities of the world become climate ready and storm-safe as the globe’s sea level changes.
For just $50, property owners can receive a customized FIRST SCORE(TM), which measures the number of flood days over 30 years. CRC also offers a variety of products, including a 20-page report detailing the flood risks an individual property faces. Albert Slap, President of CRC, sees the rapid assessment providing communities with the knowledge needed to make climate resiliency decisions in a more democratic, and bottom-up manner. “We can get prices down so that individual homeowners, neighborhoods, and communities can learn their short- and long-term flood risks, then look at how well their existing plans and systems are going to work. [When] information bubbles up from the bottom, the design of coastal communities can be more democratic.”
Currently, the field of coastal storm protection and flood risk mitigation is dominated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and a host of engineering firms, including Moffatt & Nichol Engineers, Olsen Associates, Inc., Coastal Systems International, Applied Coastal Research and Engineering, Inc., Coastal Planning and Engineering, and MRD Associations, Inc., among others. The large-scale projects undertaken by these companies and the USACE require equally large models and assessments. However, individuals and communities are often not privy to the information used to make important infrastructure decisions.
The tension between homeowners in coastal communities and the engineering experts recommending shoreline protection strategies can be found across the country. In several coastal towns in New Jersey, some homeowners are furiously fighting against the use of dunes in the post-Superstorm Sandy beach projects. Many of these homeowners claim that dunes and other proposed approaches do not provide the protection the USACE asserts. Increased access to flood risk assessments could address this and other disconnects between property owners and coastal engineers.
Robert Hubbell, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at CRC, observes that homeowners and prospective home buyers typically do not know how much risk their properties face. Results can be highly varied, even within communities. In working with clients along the New Jersey shore and on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Hubbell notes that “not everyone is at risk for future [non-storm] flooding given differences in property location and elevation, but no one really knew if they were.” Hubbell and Slap have both been surprised by the results of the Coastal Risk Rapid Assessment; some clients have been relieved to learn they are at low risk while others face challenging decisions about adaptation and resiliency. “You can think a property is in trouble, but it’s not in reality, and vice versa,” according to Slap.
Founded in 2014, CRC is a geospatial analysis company. It uses its proprietary algorithms to organize and analyze big data sets in a way that is usable and useful to its clients. CRC does not make recommendations or try to assist in decision making; it simply provides information to its customers. The company gathers its data from largely public sources, including LIDAR remote sensing, USACE Sea Level Rise model, aerial photography, and tidal readings from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others. These data sets are then plugged into algorithms developed by the company to produce the FIRST SCORE(TM) and related reports.
Slap, a retired environmental lawyer and law professor, likens the Coastal Risk Rapid Assessment site to realty websites, such as Zillow. Anyone can put in an address and get a variety of reports that outline the property’s future flooding risk over a mortgage cycle. The flood prediction modeling can be customized for any individual customer, whether a city hall, an 80-acre housing development site, or even a nuclear power plant.
The potential uses for this information are great. Hubbell notes there are many prospective needs for the service, and sees CRC’s partnerships with other providers and intermediaries, such as home inspectors or mortgage lenders, as a way to expand the company’s reach. Slap sees the same potential and intends to work with a wide variety of clients, including governments, land developers, homeowners, insurance companies, and other industries with a stake in flood risk mitigation. This year, CRC entered into a joint marketing agreement with the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) to provide special pricing for InterNACHI’s members who can use the assessment products in working with commercial and residential clients.
Not surprisingly, CRC has garnered attention from the startup community in recent months. The company received an in-kind seed investment of $515,000 from Trexin Consulting, a management and technology consulting firm, this past spring. Earlier this year, CRC was recognized by the 2015 Smart City Startups Festival in Miami as one of the most promising startup companies helping the country prepare for sea level rise and coastal flooding. The company was also named a top finalist in the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.
CRC’s team includes Dr. Brian Soden who joined the team as Vice President of Science and Technology. Dr. Soden, widely regarded as a leading authority in climate change science and modeling, is a Professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science. Other experts include Dr. Leonard Berry, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and former consultant to USAID, World Bank, UNDP, GEF, and FAO, and Dr. Keren Bolter, research coordinator for the FAU Center for Environmental Studies and policy analyst for the Southeast Regional Planning Council.
CRC is one to keep an eye on in the coming year. As the company solidifies itself in the flood risk analysis market, it hopes that its approach to providing access to important information will set it apart from the competition. “Better information leads to better decision making,” according to Hubbell, and CRC is poised to be the provider of this better information to individuals, businesses, and decision makers who were previously unable to access it. With over 50 million pieces of property along the coast in the United States, the need for flood risk analysis will only continue to grow as sea levels and weather patterns change.
For more information on this article, contact Madeline Urbish at firstname.lastname@example.org.