Photo: Keren Bolter, science director for Coastal Risk Consulting in Plantation, works with developers in the neighborhood of Las Olas Boulevard waterway, to take preventive measure in flood assessment to ensure homes would not be affected by storm surge or sea-level rise. Carline Jean/Staff Photographer (Carline Jean / Sun Sentinel)
Rising sea levels. Coastal flooding. Hurricane storm surge.
It’s one thing to hear about the possibility of catastrophe. It’s another when you learn exactly how these might affect you and your home.
A Plantation startup company has developed a model that can tell individual homeowners the risk they face from flooding over their 30-year mortgage. Coastal Risk Consulting provides homeowners with an easy-to-read score that shows their risk, as well as recommendations on how they can improve their property to mitigate future problems.
“People’s eyes glaze over when they see the big picture stuff. It becomes much more focused when it’s you and what your issues are,” said Leonard Berry, who last year co-founded Coastal Risk with Albert Slap, an environmental attorney.
Berry founded and led Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies in Davie for more than a decade. Together, the pair have formed a team of scientists, many former colleagues from FAU, and are just beginning to market their product.
There are free online tools available to residents wanting to do their research, but the sites don’t typically include forecasts or provide analysis for an individual home.
For example, the National Flood Insurance Program offers FloodSmart.gov, which supplies historic information, not scientific forecasts. Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the National Flood Insurance Program, doesn’t include projections of future sea levels in its mapping program, said spokesman Danon Lucas. He said FEMA uses historical climate information and only considers the sea-level rise that has occurred.
Florida International University offers eyesontherise.org/app, which allows residents to type in an address and learn about the property’s elevations and visualize what sea-level rise could mean for the home. It doesn’t take tidal waves into consideration, though.
Neither does Zillow, which uses its own data and NOAA historical information.
Coastal Risk’s model goes beyond federal flood maps because it takes into account forecasts for sea-level rise and more frequent high tides and downpours, said Keren Bolter, science director for Coastal Risk. Bolter, who has a doctorate degree in geosciences from FAU, is a former research coordinator at the Florida Center for Environmental Studies..
The company offers a basic report, “First Score,” for $99, which identifies a property’s risk for hurricane storm surge, extreme tides and sea-level rise, and heavy rainfall and groundwater accumulation. A more in-depth analysis, the “Rapid Assessment,” provides risk assessment over multiple years and is available for $499.
Berry said they wanted to bring the issue of flooding down to the homeowner or street level at an affordable price. His team “took a set of publicly available data and put them together in a unique way to give householder level information,” he said.
Earlier this year, Coastal Risk won a Stevie Award in recognition for innovation in business.
“No one can see the future in an exact way, but under these conditions, these are the likely impacts on your property,” Berry said.
San Antonio residents Kim and Charles Regenhard recently purchased a Coastal Risk First Score when they were looking for a house on Marco Island for their retirement. The couple decided to build instead of buy their retirement home, to make sure the house has features, such as an elevated air-conditioning unit and a sea wall, to help prevent flooding.
Coastal Risk “helped us make a more informed decision,” Kim Regenhard said.
Coastal Risk’s model also was the tool of choice for developer Stanley Young, co-founder of Grey Door Luxury Homes in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. He wanted more information to present to potential buyers of his $4.8 million spec home being built near the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale.
The company found that — based on the design of the house and a higher sea wall installed by Grey Door — “the house would be unaffected by sea-level rise” at least over the next few decades, Young said.
Except for the low coastal parts of South Florida, residents don’t face immediate concerns about tidal flooding, Bolter said. Sea-level rise is a “creeping” phenomenon — “it happens a little more every year,” she said.
And sea level rise and extreme tides can bring storm surge even further inland, she said.
In Florida, 12.56 percent of homes, or 934, 411, could be under water by the year 2100, according to a recent Zillow report.
Flooding occurs during so-called king tides, the highest of the year when the sun and moon are in alignment and closer to Earth, which typically occurs in October. But they’re becoming more frequent. This year, extreme tides also are expected in mid-September and November, Bolter said.
She said there are different flooding issues for coastal vs. inland properties. “With inland areas, you have more issues with this drainage. It’s almost like a traffic jam moving inward,” she said.
Nancy Gassman, assistant Public Works director for Fort Lauderdale, said Coastal Risk’s First Score is a starting point for a homeowner or home buyer.
“I think they are providing a marketable service, but that service doesn’t tell the whole story about the potential vulnerability,” said Gassman, who has a doctorate in marine biology and ecosystems from the University of Miami.
She recommended residents also contact a municipality to find out what actions it has taken to prevent flooding. Fort Lauderdale, for example, has installed one-way tidal valves designed to prevent tidal water from coming up the storm drain during high tides, she said. The city also requires a certain height on sea walls, depending on the property’s location.
She said Coastal Risk can provide useful recommendations to homeowners on what can be done to the property to prevent flooding.
“Coastal Risk provides them with a list, and it’s a good list,” Gassman said.