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May 12, 2008
Announcing the U.S. Flood Catastrophe Model
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Announcing the U.S. Flood Catastrophe Model

by Susan Smith

Flood risk models have been in the news lately, most likely in preparation for flood and hurricane seasons ahead. Last we covered a new
Flood Risk Model for Great Britain. Each flood risk model looks to incorporate more data into its database, as the more pertinent data that resides in the database, the more accurate an assessment of flood risk can be.

Just announced is U.S. Flood Catastrophe Model and advanced flood risk solutions proprietary software from the First American Flood Data solutions division, which is part of First American Spatial Solutions group based in Austin, Texas. First American’s Flood Model has been validated against hundreds of thousands of claims, and has assembled data from digitizing federal flood maps, proven hydraulic science and actual historical flooding events.

The Flood Model, a key product in the company’s new suite of Advanced Flood Risk Solutions, includes geospatial analytics, basic flood data, flood risk scoring and near real-time monitoring of actual flood conditions. It is a. sophisticated risk management solution designed for insurance companies to measure their financial risk with regard to floods on several fronts: property, portfolio and policy.

click to enlarge [

Parcels (in purple) within 2,500 feet of the ocean but not in a storm surge-risk zone

I met with First American at GITA this year and learned that the company is an $8 billion Fortune 200 company, the largest provider of title insurance in the nation. In business since the late 1800s, the company began as a title company in California, whose clients now are involved with every part of a transaction that has to do with transacting real estate. Property information companies, tax companies, title insurance companies, specialty insurance companies such as homeowner’s policies, analytics companies for predicting loan default, all rely on First
American for transacting their properties.

As a provider of services to the lending industry, First American sees a flood risk management product as a valuable asset. “Every time you buy a piece of property, if the bank that’s making the loan is a federally backed bank, which most of them are, they are required by law to determine whether that property sits within the flood rate maps that the national flood insurance program puts out,” said senior product manager, Jason Sears. “And so we have a large marketshare within that service industry, so we provide most of the about 65% of the better marketshare today of flood determination.” Consequently the company has a rich background in GIS because determining whether a
property sits within the floodplain boundaries is a GIS function.

First American’s flood plain business utilizes several different applications, some are off the shelf, some are internal and proprietary. Right now, they run roughly around a million flood determinations a month depending upon the marketing conditions.

“For us to be efficient and cost effective we need to make sure those things hit automatically so it comes into our system and the GIS software automatically is able to tell us whether that property is in a flood zone or not. We have a lot of geocoding technologies and we have employed a lot of different databases to help us do that automatically. Around 90% of the time or better we’re able to get an automatic determination. The property comes in, hits our database, pops back out to the lender, says yes or no, this is in a flood zone. If it is, it tells them the flood zone they’re in. We have to be extremely accurate on that because we insure every flood determination that we do,
so basically if it’s a residential policy and we say you’re not in a flood zone, and it turns out you are, and you’re flooded, we have to cover just as though you had the flood insurance.”

click to enlarge [

Illustrates how the boundary of the flood waters (white line) extended beyond the 100-year floodplain (blue line) in Findlay, Ohio

In addition to having highly accurate geocoding capabilities, First American is able to utilize and gather a lot of data resources. Last April the company announced its intent to build the first national parcel database. By the end of 2008, First American will have 110 million parcels for the U.S. identified and captured in their database. You will be able to attach an address and a centroid with all the parcel boundaries. “There is a lot of interest from a whole lot of different industries: oil and gas, insurance, utilities,” said Sears.

First American recently acquired Proxix Solutions, provider of a geocoder called PixPoint, into which they have integrated all their parcels. Additionally Proxix’ insurance products around natural risk, such as wildfire, coastal surge, earthquakes and tax products fit naturally into First American’s focus.

With the acquisition of Proxix, First American could also incorporate its property data and tag it to parcels. Putting this information together with GIS, risks and scoring capabilities, the company has formed a new organization called First American Spatial Solutions.

According to Sears, flood zone determinations were developed by FEMA in support of the National Flood Insurance Program which informs an owner if a piece of property is in or out of a flood zone for the purposes of qualifying that person for National Flood (subsidized ) insurance. “That’s fine, if that’s the business you’re in,” Sears pointed out. “However, for a number of insurers, they’re looking for something that is more flexible than that program, and more robust, meaning they’re dealing with multi-million dollar structures. For commercial insurers, the National Flood Insurance Program doesn’t even begin to address the cost of working with the claim, so they need
something better than that. Something more extensive, accurate, more granular in determining the level of risk.”

Important factors for these insurers:

1) Accuracy – FEMA’s flood zone maps and flood zone determination product reflect the most extensive engineering effort nationwide to date. However, these are not good tools for determining accuracy and insurers say they need more reliable data. “Around 25-30% of flood claims filed every year are on properties outside that flood plain,” Sears said. In the case of specific storms and catastrophes, the percentage has ballooned up as much as 60% of properties that flood based on flood claims filed that are outside the flood plain.

2) Better understanding of whether high or low risk in a flood plain.

3) Flood risk as opposed to flood exposure. Flood risk is probability that an event is going to occur. Flood exposure is anticipated or forecasted losses due to flood within any given year. What’s the worst case scenario? “The way the insurance industry looks at it, they look at return periods, so they’re asking the question, was it a 500-year return period or every 500 years? What would the worst event in terms of financial consequences be?”

Sears stated that in order to determine this, you not only need to know the probability that an event is going to occur, and the frequency, you also need to know the severity, i.e., what’s the depth of flooding in a given spot in a given building, say 2 ft. or 4 ft. “You need to know what does 4 ft. mean, in terms of damage. Is that 20% of damage to the building? Half the value of the building? Will business shut down for a few days? What kind of contents are in that building?”

The U.S. Flood Catastrophe Model uses 500,000 events that are reflections of actual historical events. Combined with complex modeling techniques, it places a property using geocoding and it runs these hypothetical events against it. The report will say that property is going to be exposed to event #271 and this was based on the elevation of that property at that point. This is the exposure: that property will get 2 ft. of flooding, and because it’s commercial, that represents 20% damage. The client says the property is worth $2 million. Then the 20% damage is calculated in to come up with the exposure number.

Finally, Sears said you need to consider what kind of financial conditions are involved, such as deductibles. “This is exposure, and that’s where the U.S. Flood Catastrophe Model comes into play.”

Originally developed by SwissRe Insurance, one of the top five reinsurers in the world, the Flood Model was designed for the insurance vertical market. SwissRe ensures primary insurers who underwrite a lot of risk and ultimately need to be insured for the ultimate catastrophes. That’s where reinsurers come in. “SwissRe has every interest in the world to encourage people to underwrite flood so they can turn around and reinsure it. So they have this model they developed and has been validated against hundreds of thousands of actual clients, but they didn’t have the capabilities to go out there and actively market it,” explained Sears. In an exclusive partnership with First
American, SwissRe can begin to distribute that model out in the marketplace, build awareness and get people using it so they can derive additional business on their side.

They can also work with a company who has the tools and experience to improve and enhance that model. First American has 20+ years experience in flood risk, and has developed a number of unique data repositories that lend itself to making that model better.

Parcel based geocoding, plus advanced and current elevation data that the USGS has released, is offered as part of another product that can also enhance the U.S. Flood Catastrophe Model. “We have built out a database of around 85,000 dams and levees which reflects a number of publicly available databases and we’ve incorporated that as part of the flood risk score,” Sears noted. The advanced data is not yet part of the model, but it was instrumental in SwissRe’s decision to partner with First American.

According to Sears, “Flood is such a localized phenomenon. Two feet in elevation distance make a huge distance when it comes to flooding. Besides parcel based geocoding and flood zone determination, the flood risk score is an advanced underwriting tool that pulls in levees and dams, does some elevation calculations, checks for anomalies in the flood maps, with a tool that does real time weather monitoring and reports actual ongoing flooding conditions so people can look at properties that are exposed or in potential danger of flooding at the moment. The advanced flood risk solution makes sense as flood continues to be the most destructive and pervasive of all perils.”

In spite of this reality, the industry has shied away from it, because the tools have to date, not been available to give the industry the confidence to underwrite flood, Sears added. “They must feel confident they can identify and quantify the exposure; if you don’t know the exposure you don’t know how to price it.”


Top News of the Week

Finding your way around town will be easier than ever: Street View is now integrated into Google Maps driving directions. In the regions across the country where Google Maps Street View imagery is available, users will see camera icons next to each step of their directions, which will open a Street View image of the location, along with an arrow showing the action to be taken. Users can click through their entire route through Street View, and when the journey is complete a green marker will indicate arrival at their destination.

At the Space Weather Workshop in Boulder, Colo., NASA-funded researchers released to the general public a new "4D" live model of Earth's ionosphere. Without leaving home, anyone can fly through the dynamic layer of ionized gases that encircles Earth at the edge of space itself. All that's required is a connection to the Internet. Airline flight controllers can use this tool to plan long-distance business flights over the poles, saving money and time for flyers.

The ionosphere is, in a sense, our planet's "final frontier." It is the last wisp of Earth's atmosphere that astronauts leave behind when they enter space. The realm of the ionosphere stretches from 50 to 500 miles above Earth's surface where the atmosphere thins to near-vacuum and exposes itself to the fury of the sun. Solar ultraviolet radiation breaks apart molecules and atoms creating a globe-straddling haze of electrons and ions.

Weather Underground, an online provider of weather related content, announced the availability of its new interactive weather map. Sharing its namesake with the website, the WunderMap is an interactive visual display of weather information that is plotted and overlaid on a map interface. Users can choose from a variety of weather layers, including animated radar, current conditions, severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings, live webcam images and animated infrared or visible satellite imagery showing cloud coverage.

The interactive WunderMap feature can be accessed from the WunderMap link on the main page of the
website. Users will find the new feature useful in that it provides a meaningful and uniform representation of multiple types of weather data in an easy to use, interactive format. The level of user-interactivity that can be achieved with the WunderMap makes it a powerful tool for avid meteorologists, while still maintaining a clean and intuitive design for the casual weather observer.

Intergraph has introduced significant enhancements to its end-to-end earth imaging portfolio that will enable organizations to capture, process and manage high-quality images faster and more cost-effectively. Intergraph’s earth imaging solutions include digital aerial cameras, flight management and post-processing systems, photogrammetric workstations and a full photogrammetric data exploitation software suite.


1Spatial is pleased to announce the signing of a Value Added Reseller agreement with Tele Atlas, a global provider of digital maps and dynamic content for navigation and location-based solutions. This announcement was made at the 1Spatial Conference 2008 where Tele Atlas was a keynote presenter on ‘The Future of the Digital Map’, as well as a Gold Sponsor.

XēDAR Corporation, a provider of cyber and homeland security solutions, announced that its subsidiary Pixxures has been selected by DigitalGlobe as one of its partners to support aerial content collection and processing. Under the agreement, DigitalGlobe will make Pixxures’ aerial imagery mapping products available through its leading online image library.

IDV Solutions announced a new strategic partnership with Applied Knowledge Group (AKG), a full service business and technology consulting company. In this partnership, AKG will be able to offer customers new value with SharePoint implementations by using IDV Solutions’ Visual Fusion Suite.

The companies both focus on collaboration and information management solutions built on a Microsoft platform. This partnership will aid in offering clients the right solutions for their needs.

The Intergraph digital mapping camera (DMC) will soon be compatible with leading aerial survey software from TRACK’ AIR, offering TRACK’ AIR users a smooth transition to all the benefits of using digital camera technology while still leveraging their existing mission planning and flight management technology. In addition to operating with the DMC, TRACK’ AIR mission planning and flight management software will also work in conjunction with Intergraph’s latest sensor management hardware.

Wireless Matrix Corporation, a leader in mobile resource management (MRM), announced it has partnered with deCarta, the leading provider of advanced and comprehensive geospatial software platforms, to increase its mapping capabilities within FleetOutlook, Wireless Matrix's flagship web application.


Professional engineering and mapping services firm Bohannan Huston, Inc. (BHI) has been selected by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) to produce high-quality digital aerial photography for the Denver Regional Aerial Photography Project (DRAPP). BHI will conduct multifaceted aerial photography of approximately 7,000 square miles of the Denver metropolitan area, including Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Gilpin and Jefferson counties, and parts of Weld, Grand and Park counties. The resulting aerial imagery will be used for regional planning, evaluating and mitigating natural hazards, transportation and
land use planning, natural resource management, and water resource planning.

Terremark Worldwide, Inc., a global provider of IT infrastructure services, announced that Blue Dasher Technologies, a technology leader in 360-degree street-level imaging, has selected Terremark to host its database of high-density geo-coded images of public streets of major metropolitan areas in North America.

The Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) is implementing a number of OGC standards. IOOS is a multidisciplinary system that will provide data and information on the oceans and Great Lakes, at both local and national scales, for use by a wide variety of decision makers.

The buildingSMART alliance, the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) and Sponsors of the AECOO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Owner and Operator) Testbed have issued a Request for Quotation (RFQ) and Call for Participation (CFP) for the AECOO-Phase 1 Testbed. The testbed aims to foster business transformation as defined in the United States National Building Information Modeling Standard, Part 1 (NBIMS) with technology for interoperability involving intelligent building models with 3D geometric capabilities. Business and communications, quantity take-off for cost estimating, and energy analysis are considered as they relate to planning and
design for a capital facility. These three topic areas were selected by the Sponsors to focus attention on defining workable information solutions and services for information visualization and sharing.

The RFQ/CFP is available at
http://www.opengeospatial.org/projects/initiatives/aecoo-1rfq. Responses are due by May 30, 2008.

ERDAS announces Rapidly Connect and Share Your World, a free webinar on Thursday, May 8 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. (EDT). This webinar will highlight ERDAS TITAN, a geospatial data bridge providing access to data from multiple public and private data resources, and enabling that data to be accessed in a variety of desktop applications.

To register for Rapidly Connect and Share Your World, or find out more about other upcoming webinars, please visit the

The California GIS Council (CGC), the primary geographic information systems coordinating council for the state, has formally endorsed the GIS Certification Institute's (GISCI) certification program for GIS professionals. California has joined New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and North Carolina as the five states to offer endorsements of the program.

As the importance of geospatial technology continues to increase, professionals, educators, and students plan to gather to discuss innovations and emerging concepts in the GIS industry in Loveland, Colorado. The 21st annual GIS in the Rockies Conference, which will be held September 10 – 12, 2008, offers a set of innovative opportunities to foster education and networking across the geospatial industry focused around the Real Property Asset Management theme.

For more information or to register online, visit the

Three universities have been approved as sites for an ESRI Development Center (EDC), a special opportunity that is part of a new design and development program for geospatial technology. On March 18, at the 2008 ESRI Developer Summit in Palm Springs, California, the first three EDC sites were announced including the University of Redlands and Claremont Graduate University in California as well as University College London in the United Kingdom.


NAVTEQ Corporation, a global provider of digital map data for vehicle navigation and location-based solutions, reported record first quarter revenue and operating income for the quarter ended March 30, 2008.

First quarter revenue rose 40% over the same period in 2007 to $224.5 million. Excluding the impact of foreign currency rate fluctuation, revenue for the first quarter grew 32%. Operating income was $40.8 million, a 6% increase over last year's first quarter. Net income in the quarter grew 9% over the prior year to $32.9 million. Earnings per diluted share in the quarter of $0.32 grew 4% over the same period in 2007. See
press release


Infotech is pleased to announce Mr. Larry Konty, a top performing executive with over 30 years of broad GIS experience, has joined Infotech’s sales force. Mr. Konty is a Senior Account Manager with his main focus on the rapidly expanding demand for geospatial solutions in the commercial market.

ESRI announced Mark McCoy has joined ESRI as the insurance industry solutions manager. With 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, McCoy brings a wide array of skills to this position.

New Products

Trimble introduced the first modern software package specifically designed to continuously monitor and control Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) broadcast sites for marine navigation -- Trimble Coastal Center software. Developed to provide network operators the ability to monitor and control multiple DGPS beacon stations from one central location, Trimble Coastal Center software can save time by automating functions and tasks remotely.

DMTI Spatial (DMTI), a provider of enterprise location intelligence solutions, has announced the availability of its new Wireless Business & Network Planning Solution designed exclusively for Canadian telecommunications companies competing in May’s Spectrum Auction. The new Wireless Business & Network Planning Solution optimizes bidding decisions as well as the ongoing network planning and capital investment involved. Canada’s Spectrum Auction will allow 27 companies to bid for 105 megahertz of wireless airwaves, with a 40 megahertz block open only to companies that have less than 10 percent of the national wireless market.

Citilabs, a leader in transportation modeling software, is proud to announce the release of its next generation product-line, Cube 5. This new version of Cube has been developed using ESRI’s ArcGIS technology, providing our software users significant advancements in productivity, analysis, and data-sharing. Cube users will now be able to store transportation networks as ESRI geodatabases, utilizing ESRI feature classes. Moving data back and forth between models and GIS has never been easier, saving transportation agencies and consultants time and money.

Spot Image has added nine new nations and regions to its line of SPOTMaps mosaics including Iraq, Kuwait and North Korea. Available for immediate purchase, SPOTMaps provide seamless uniform coverage comprised of 2.5-meter, natural-color SPOT 5 satellite imagery acquired within the past three years.

Geospatial Systems, Inc. (GSI), the makers of the TerraPix suite of modularairborne mapping and surveillance systems, announced the introduction of the KCM-IR, anew metric camera designed to enable direct georeferenced Thermal Infrared airborne mapping and surveillance.

The KCM-IR is a ruggedized, large format (640x480) Thermal Infrared Kinematic Camera Module that produces detailed images day or night. The KCM-IR includes a precision lens and optomechanical framework that is designed to maintain geometric precision under airborne operating conditions.

UK aerial survey specialist Bluesky has launched a new range of highly accurate and detailed 3D city models. The new product range will be available off the shelf and will help improve the management of Britain's urban centres providing a new understanding of the built environment. Applications include planning and development control, security and emergency response planning, environmental modeling and even potential to revolutionize the gaming and simulator markets. Bluesky city models are created from the most up-to-date vertical aerial photography using the latest 3D software and provide a real world, interactive, geographically accurate representation of the built
environment from the desktop.

RADARSAT-2, Canada’s next-generation commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite, completed commissioning April 25, 2008 and is now in full commercial operations. Products are available for the expanded suite of beam modes and MDA’s RADARSAT-2 Order Desk is open for business.

Around the Web

Upcoming Events

Date: May 12 - 14, 2008
Place: Burlingame, CA USA
Where 2.0 brings together the people, projects, and issues building the new technological foundations and creating value in the location industry. Join with other developers, technologists, CTOs, researchers, geographers, academics, business developers, and entrepreneurs to debate and discuss what's viable now, and what's lurking just below the radar.


Date: May 14, 2008
Place: Headquarters NGA

Bethesda, MD USA
Come see how NGA’s products and services are uniting the intelligence, defense, and homeland security communities through an integrated GIS architecture for web-based dissemination, analysis, and visualization. NGA’s solutions include real-time common operational pictures of information used to describe, assess, and depict physical features and geographically referenced activities.


Date: May 15, 2008
Place: Sheraton Premiere

Tysons Corner, Vienna, VA USA
This unique annual event, produced in cooperation with NGA, provides an exclusive opportunity to truly examine next-generation technology offerings for those who have a mission focus of utilizing geospatial intelligence to solve national and global security challenges. TECH DAYS also lends itself to be a great venue to network in a low-key environment among an intimate tradeshow floor and yet not have to compete with keynote speakers or other agendas.


Date: May 15 - 16, 2008

This 2 day class from ESRI covers the basics of ArcGIS 9.2 software.  You will learn about spatial data formats (shapefiles, coverages, rasters, geodatabases, CAD, etc.), working with tables, making maps, working with selections, coordinate systems, and editing spatial data. 

Time: 8:30 – 4:30 each day

Price: $795 per person; $645 per person when 2+ from the same organization register.


Date: May 21 - 23, 2008
Place: The Rio

Las Vegas, NV USA
MapWorld 08 lights up Las Vegas with cutting edge ideas for exploiting business data. See the newest tools to share location intelligence across your organization. Learn proven strategies to increase profitability. And experience it all in America’s top vacation destination.


Date: June 2 - 5, 2008
Place: Caesars Palace

Las Vegas, NV USA
Get ready for another energizing experience… Another networking extravaganza… Another event with unlimited possibilities. And that’s just for starters! We invite you to experience firsthand the excitement, natural beauty, and difference between ordinary and spectacular.


Date: June 2 - 5, 2008
Place: Ottawa Congress Centre

Ottawa, Canada
The GeoTec Event provides a unique gathering place for geospatial technology professionals from all disciplines to interact and learn from each other's experience and knowledge. The program is designed to help you discover cutting-edge geospatial technology solutions from diverse application areas.


Date: June 2 - 3, 2008
Place: Estes Park, CO USA
Located in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, GeoGathering 2008 is a conference dedicated to providing oil and gas gathering system professionals a venue to share their experiences and best practices with geospatial information while learning about current industry regulations and GIS solutions.


You can find the full GISCafe event calendar here.

To read more news, click here.

-- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.