100-year flood risk in Southern Ghana

Water, water, everywhere

08/07/2017

Resource: Global Flood Map

Provided by: FM Global

Website (requires simple / free registration)

We don’t normally cover commercial companies or products but given how much we hear and report at NDCi.global on the need for more public data, especially to help create adaptation products, the fact that one of the world’s largest property insurers is making a significant resource freely available intrigued us. We spoke to Marc Surleraux, Paris-based Manager for Special Projects, Engineering and Research at FM Global, about their ‘Global Flood Map’. 


FM Global is a Fortune 1000 company in the US, with more than 5,400 staff, including 1,800 loss prevention engineers, in 66 countries worldwide. It is a mutual commercial property insurance company, meaning that its policyholders are its owners. From a risk management standpoint, flood is a growing concern for clients globally, and the costliest of all natural disasters, so improving flood assessment capabilities, especially on a global basis, has been a priority for FM Global. The map helps the company to work better with clients to understand their risk and mitigate their exposure.

“Other insurers of course have flood maps,” Marc Surleraux says, “but users have to pay to access them. We have made a version of ours freely available for some time. And alongside the map we also publish Data Sheets that provide our own engineering standards on how to go about loss prevention, at no cost. We firmly believe that natural disasters are not ‘acts of God’ against which there is no defence. Most losses are preventable with the right measures. So our underlying purpose is to make businesses more resilient, and if populations and NGOs can also benefit from this data then that’s a plus.”

The Global Flood Map shows the effect of a so-called ‘100-year’ flood risk event on a locality (the illustration at the top shows how southern Ghana would be affected). “That’s a flood event with a 1% chance of occurring in any given year,” Surleraux explains. (For many of us, of course, such events now seem, if only anecdotally, much more likely to occur than once every 100 years.) The map is presently “coarse”, as Surleraux puts it, using blocks of 90×90 metres of the earth’s surface, but “the goal is to make it more granular over time”. It shows the risk of flooding from rain, snow and melting, not from flash floods or storm surges, and it doesn’t presently show, either, where flood defence measures have been put in place. Despite these limitations, the map is an advance on previous approaches in that it doesn’t just depend on historical data, but is predictive in nature via physical modelling. The map is constructed from a range of global and local datasets and “although it’s currently viewable at a low resolution, it means that a client can see if they are potentially at risk and then get a more detailed assessment done by a consultant,” as Surleraux notes.

Three main factors affect flood risk

He says that there are three main factors that affect the incidence of damage from flooding, which is typically the most destructive of natural events. These are global warming, urbanisation (which increases water runoff) and, often linked to urbanisation, greater physical concentration of businesses.

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Alongside the Global Flood Map, FM Global publishes an extensive range of Data Sheets that set out, in detail, its own engineering guidelines for maximizing the chances of loss prevention. One on Water Tanks for Fire Protection, for example, picked entirely at random, runs to some 105 pages. The Data Sheet on Earthquakes looks like a valuable source of practical information for any business in an earthquake zone, insured or not.

As to future developments, FM Global is also planning to add to the Flood Map footprint data on storm surge risk for the most exposed coastlines. Surleraux says, however, that he is not aware of anyone who is yet building in modelling on sea-level rise to mapping or insurance products generally.

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