Norfolk;s Flood Risk Learning Center shows what 4.5 feet of water would do to this house in a Category 3 hurricane. Photo: City of Norfolk

What’s Your Home’s Flood Risk? Norfolk Launches Interactive Tool

The official start of the Atlantic hurricane season is just six weeks away, believe it or not. For vulnerable waterfront cities like Norfolk, Virginia, that means planning ahead for possible flooding.

To increase awareness of flooding and the necessity of flood insurance, Norfolk has introduced a new online Flood Risk Learning Center. This incredible interactive program allows anyone to get a visual estimate of flood water levels at
addresses throughout the city. You simply enter the address, adjust a marker line to ground level, and go. The program overlays the flood water level on a photo of the property, so anyone can easily envision the extent of the flooding. The site also provides odds.

For the residence in the photo below, the program estimates that there is a 26 percent chance that the pictured flood level could take place during a 30-year mortgage:

A visual estimate of the flood risk at a Norfolk home.

To drive the point home, this photo shows the same home and flooded street during Hurricane Irene in 2011:

2011 Photo: Kendall Osborne

According to Matthew Simmons, Floodplain Manager for the City of Norfolk, “The purpose of the tool is for increased flood awareness, and more specifically, for helping residents to better understand and visualize the flood risk on a property-specific level.”

According to Simmons, Norfolk already has above average participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). About 80 percent of residences in the Flood Hazard Area have signed up, while the national average is around 30 percent. But, there has been a slight decline in recent surveys. Since flood damage can be tremendously expensive, Norfolk would like to see even more residents sign up.

The program was developed with Civis Analytics. Civis helped Norfolk lead several focus groups during the application’s development. Civis Analytics will be able to follow how the learning center is (or is not) used. This will allow Norfolk to tweak the program in the future for better outreach and community participation. It also gives Norfolk a benchmark to track changes in future flood insurance participation.

This is the only such program Civis has worked on in the Chesapeake Bay area, but the technology could have implications for more flood-prone areas. If you or someone you know lives in Norfolk, send them this link, let them have a look, and make sure they have insurance if they need it. You can find it at

-Kendall Osborne