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Flood Insurance: The Basics


If you live in California, watch television, listen to the radio or browse the internet, then you’ve most likely heard about El Niño and the possibility of flooding in the coming months.  Amid all the talk about flooding and subsequent need for flood insurance, there are still more questions.


Most people understand the basic idea of flooding, but many don’t know whether flood insurance coverage is needed, and if so, what protection is available.  The following is meant as an introduction into the world of flood insurance and an overview of coverage options as well as some common misconceptions.

For more detailed information about individual risks, please visit one or more of the websites that are referenced.  To obtain a quote, or to get in touch with a flood insurance professional, please visit our website.

Terms and Definitions

  • Flood – The National Flood Insurance Program defines flood as “a general and temporary condition where two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties are inundated by water or mudflow“.
  • Flash Flood – a rapid flooding of low-lying areas in a short period of time; generally less than 6 hours.
  • Mudflow – Rivers of liquid and flowing mud on the surface of normally dry land, often caused by a combination of brush loss and subsequent heavy rains.  Mudflows are covered by flood insurance, but are different than landslides.
  • Mudslide – Dry or Wet mass of earth or rock moves downhill.  Mudslides can also be covered, if defined exactly as the Standard Flood Insurance Policy defines Mudflow. 
  • Landslide – Downward sliding or falling of a mass of earth, rock or soil.  Also known as slope failure.  Although running water may trigger a landslide, the damage is caused by the falling/sliding rock or earth; not by water.  For this reason landslide is NOT covered by flood insurance.

Common Causes of Flooding

  • Heavy Rainfall –  Typically, California will have the most rainfall during the months of November through February.  With the prediction of a strong El Niño, the forecast warns of a wetter-than-normal winter in 2015.
  • Flood After Fire – Vegetation normally assists in the absorption of rainwater, reducing runoff and overflow.   Because of this, areas that have been scorched by wildfire are at a much higher risk for flash flooding and mudflow.   Due to the recent wildfires in California, the current conditions place our state in elevated risk for flooding for possibly the next 5 years.
  • Coastal Storms –  The west coast can experience serious storms which create extreme high tides, storm surges and tsunamis.
  • Failed Levees –  While levees are designed to protect us against flooding, over time they are subject to decay, erosion and  possible overflow during times of serious flooding.  FEMA strongly recommends flood insurance for all homes located in areas protected by levees.

Flood Insurance Basics

Flood insurance policies offer coverage options for building only, contents only or a combination of both, and separate deductibles will apply.  Depending on your property location, your risk for flood is either considered high-risk, or moderate-to-low risk.  This factor, combined with information about elevation and building construction, along with amount of coverage will determine your premium.  For those who are determined to be in moderate-to-low risk areas, you may qualify for a Preferred Risk Policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  There is typically a 30-day waiting period, and as with all insurance policies, you’ve got to know what’s covered (and not covered) – click here for details.

  • Residential Coverage:  Residential flood insurance is available to homeowners, tenants and condo owners/renters.  Residential flood policies through the NFIP offer up to $250,000 for the building and $100,000 for contents.
  • Commercial Coverage:  Coverage is available to commercial property owners and renters with similar options for building, contents & business property coverage.  Commercial flood insurance policies through the NFIP offer up to $500,000 for building coverage and $500,000 coverage for contents.

Assess your own risk:  FEMA’s website, offers an interactive tool designed to outline different flood risk scenarios.  You can also find an FAQ section on their website, with topics including “Doesn’t my homeowners insurance policy cover flooding?” (Quick Answer:  NO, it doesn’t.) and “Why do I need flood insurance, even though my community has never been flooded?”

For those who are very curious, the State of California, Department of Water Resources offers a comprehensive guide to all things flood related.


Aniek Ramsay

Vice President, Branch Manager | Woodland