Over the last several weeks most of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic area of the United States was stuck in a rain pattern that seemed to settle in certain areas dropping several inches of rain repeatedly. The saturated soils and runoff caused creeks and rivers to over flow their banks flooding many communities. The television reports were focused on a major dam protecting the Lynchburg, Virgina. The officials were concerned about it failing. Try imaging an 80 foot high wall of water holding back about miles of water. Picture the destruction that would result downstream.

A local perspective you may be better able to relate to, picture the Kent Dam at the extreme south end of the Scituate Reservoir. At capacity, it holds back over 80 feet of water with nearly 10 miles of reservoir behind that wall, plus the Ponaganset reservoir and other water bodies that feed into it. The Kent Dam spillway that is about 30 ft wide. If the Kent Dam were to fail allowing that 80 ft wall with 150,000,000 million cubic meters of water to flush through Hope, Coventry, West Warwick, Warwick and Cranston. All of the low lying lands would be washed clean of all structures. The Pawtuxet River banks would eventually return to containing the river but in the initial flush, only the properties on the highest elevations would be spared. The RI Emergency Management Agency once did a study on the potential impact a Kent Dam failure would have on Rhode Island. It would result in 11 feet of water on the Green Airport runways. How many homes and businesses do you think would be flooded if that dam failed?

We saw a sampling of some of the potential destruction during the flooding that took place in 2011. Route 95 was flooded, the Warwick and Cranston Sewage Treatment plants containment berms were breached, the Malls and shopping centers in Warwick’s Bald Hill Road area became lakes. The Kent Dam remained intact through all of that; but homes were destroyed and businesses closed with many never returning. A big part of slow recovery was the lack of flood insurance purchased by the people and businesses affected. They never though it could happen to them.

The Kent Dam is a major focal point and one I use here to illustrate that many properties face the potential for a sudden flood due to the breach of a dam. The owners of those properties could purchase flood insurance but most assume nothing so devastating could ever happen.

I “Google” searched RI dams to get an idea of the exposure presented by dams in our area.  State records show that there are 138 dams in Rhode Island. Most of them were established in the 1800’s and early 1900’s to support small mills and to assist farmers with irrigation. Foster, Glocester, and Scituate have close to a dozen dams each.  Most have not been maintained resulting in many being in poor condition. If they failed, some of those could adversely impact neighboring properties.

The impression many have is that homeowners insurance or FEMA will come in and give free money to the effected property owners allowing them to rebuild and live happily ever after. It’s not that simple. Homeowners insurance does not pay for water that seeps or flows into your home from outside. If you do have a flood loss, and do not have Flood insurance, FEMA only pays pennies on the dollar for a loss and usually it is in the form of a low interest loan.  BUT FEMA will only respond if the Governor declares a “State of Emergency” and FEMA acknowledges it as such.  When FEMA pays such a loss, along with the payment comes an agreement that must be signed committing the property owner to maintain flood insurance for as long as they own the property. Failure to do so makes them ineligible for any future FEMA flood support.

The FEMA Flood Insurance program is not a perfect solution. For Flood Insurance to kick in, the flood must affect 2 or more contiguous properties and flood damage sustained in the lowest level of the home except your heating system and essential components of the building such as electric and plumbing systems. As an example a basement that is furnished will not be covered.

Exception to that is when you purchase a Flood insurance policy from an insurance agent that places it through a conventional insurance company. In those cases, the policy is basically serviced by that insurance company, premiums go to FEMA and the loss when it occurs is paid by the FEMA Flood Insurance program. In some cases, that insurance company will provide additional coverages not provided under the FEMA Flood Insurance program.

Simply, the greatest advantage of placing the policy through an insurance company is that that carrier will then have their adjusters working with you to settle your claim. FEMA does not have the resources to handle a high volume of claims within. When they hire contractors to adjust your claim they may not be from the area and will commonly overlook factors you will want addressed.