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What Does Flood Insurance Mean In Vermont?

VPR/Melody Bodette

When the topic of insurance comes up, most people probably think about fender benders or trips to the emergency room before they think of flooding. But as scientists predict increasingly severe weather events in coming years, Vermonters will likely need to become better acquainted with it.

What is flood insurance?

Flood insurance "covers direct physical loss caused by 'flood,'" according to FEMA, which runs the nationally available flood insurance program.

FEMA defines "flood" two ways:

1. A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is your property) from a. overflow of inland or tidal waters; b. unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source; or c. mudflow*. 2. Collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of water as a result of erosion or undermining caused by waves or currents of water exceeding anticipated cyclical levels that result in a flood as defined above.

FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) but policies are purchased through private insurance agents, as with home or renters insurance. In cities and towns with floodplain management regulations that meet government standards, federally backed flood insurance is available to renters and homeowners.

According to state data from 2015, the National Flood Insurance Program is available in all but 22 Vermont towns (see a list of towns that do not have federally approved floodplain management regulations here).

You may already be familiar with flood insurance if your property is in a FEMA-mapped floodplain, where the insuranceis required if you get a mortgage or loan.

Do I need it?

Before Tropical Storm Irene, Vermonters like Karin Hardy didn't spend much time thinking about flood insurance. After Irene washed away her home in Jamaica, Vermont, Hardy learned she didn't have flood insurance to cover the loss.

"I went to work Monday morning and called my insurance company and found out pretty quick that I didn't have flood insurance," she said. "And I maybe was a little slow on the take at that moment because I kept asking 'Well, what am I supposed to do?'"

Flood insurance wasn't available where she lived because the town didn't have an approved floodplain management regulation.

According to FEMA, there have been 15 flooding disaster declarations in Vermont since 1953, outpaced only by severe storms (21).  In a joint statement, the members of Vermont's Congressional Delegation wrote, "climate scientists are saying loud and clear that the extreme weather events that cause flooding are becoming more frequent because of global warming. That's why having a viable and stable National Flood Insurance Program is so critically important."

A closer look at some of the damage in Norwich, Vt. caused by flash flooding over the holiday weekend. See any damaged in your area? Tag @vprnet. • • • • • #vermont #vermontlife #severeweather #flooding photo: VPR's Rebecca Sananes A post shared by Vermont Public Radio (@vprnet) on Jul 6, 2017 at 10:35am PDT

What does it cover?

There are three different policy forms depending on the type of building you're insuring. If you're are in a one-to-four family home or a condo, you'd use NFIP's "Dwelling Form." Here's a quick rundown of what's covered.

How much does it cost?

It depends on the value of what you're insuring and the property's flood zone. Buildings that are raised above ground level are often less expensive to insure.

READ: The National Flood Insurance Program Is $25 Billion In Debt. Can Congress Save It?

Vermont towns that do not participate in NFIP

Twenty-two towns in Vermont do not participate in the NFIP program, which means National Flood Insurance is not available and you'd need to find a private provider.

  • Albany (Orleans)
  • Athens (Windham)
  • Brownington (Orleans)
  • Charleston (Orleans)
  • East Haven (Essex)
  • Eden (Lamoille)
  • Irasburg (Orleans)
  • Lunenburg (Essex)
  • Maidstone (Essex)
  • Morgan (Orleans)
  • Mt. Tabor (Rutland)
  • Newark (Caledonia)
  • Searsburg (Bennington)
  • Sheffield (Caledonia)
  • St. George (Chittenden)
  • Tinmouth (Rutland)
  • Victory (Essex)
  • Waltham (Addison)
  • Waterville (Lamoille)
  • Westmore (Orleans)
  • Wheelock (Caledonia)
  • Whiting (Addison)
Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
Emily Alfin Johnson was a senior producer for Vermont Public Radio.
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