While living in Hawaii certainly has its perks, we are also vulnerable to a range of natural hazards – floods, tsunamis, coastal erosion, hurricanes and more. Floods represent a significant risk to Hawaii residents primarily because of the combination of 1) our low-lying elevation and 2) our significant population and infrastructure levels in these areas. However, not all flood events originate near the beach. Proper watershed management in our mountains and valleys also plays a role in flood susceptibility. The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) on Maui identifies four major sources of flood risk to Hawaii: riverine, flash, mauka (runoff) and coastal. Therefore, it’s critical that we understand our vulnerability to these events so that we can then assess our options in protecting life, property and livelihood. Even if you don’t subscribe to the idea of global climate change, there’s no doubt that more attention is being paid to natural hazard mitigation around the world.
For a quick understanding of the flood risk at your residence, consult one of the national Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) published by FEMA. These maps show the types of flooding and severity of different areas and are not the same as tsunami evacuation maps which are determined at the county and state level. You can easily search the Hawaii online flood hazard assessment tool GIS by property address or TMK (tax map key). Once you know what zone you’re in from the FIRM (read about FIRMs), you can read your zone description at the FEMA site. In fact, FEMA recently redrew much of their zone boundaries on the maps with some properties being elevated into higher risk zones, so you may want to double-check your own zone designation.
As all four counties in Hawaii participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), all homeowners and renters are eligible for flood insurance. If you live in a high-risk area, you should take some time to learn how to read one of these maps so you understand your susceptibility to floods as well as the zone designation used in calculating your home flood insurance policy. If you have a Federally-backed mortgage and your property is designated to be in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), then you are required to carry flood insurance.
It’s no secret that in Hawaii we have a tenuous relationship with our natural surroundings. I think it’s sometimes easy to take our beautiful environment for granted, but it also poses a persistent threat to our livelihoods. Risk assessment and management initiatives allow us to hopefully make better decisions on how we choose to live within this framework. Thinking into the future, what will happen as waters rise into Waikiki and millions of infrastructure investment is threatened with inundation? Or Kam Highway gets overwashed on the stretch between Kahuluu and Kahuku? We will have to do a lot more than just redraw some flood maps. 9VSZVMGCXMRF