Mar 15

Buying a home? Think natural hazards.

My husband and I are beginning the process of buying a house. The last child is out of the home and we will no longer have her as a tax deduction. While I do acknowledge that children do have their uses other than as tax deductions, this is a really big deal. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying taxes as I feel it is important to have good roads and a populace that are not un-educated dolts, I just don’t like spending money I don’t really need to.

So, I naturally started looking on-line for information on buying houses. And went to Pinterest, as you do. And I found all sorts of really good information that prompted me to start my own Pinterest board on this subject that I so cleverly named “A home of my own”. And I began reading all of the really good tips, infographics, and blog articles. And I learned some useful stuff, but as I read, I realized that no one was addressing the role of natural hazards in home buying. And being an emergency manager who works in the world of natural hazards I thought that this needed to be rectified. So here is my blog post on taking natural hazards into consideration.

Because no matter where you live, you will have natural hazards to deal with. It’s not something we as humans like to think about. We live in a shiny happy bubble, right up until the earthquake shatters your chimney, the tornado rips your home off the foundation, or spring floods carry it away. It is something we need to think about and prepare for so that when it happens, we can back to normal life as soon as possible.

And you need to think about it especially when you buy a home. While bad things can happen at anytime, we want to have some reassurance that we will have a home to go to after the bad thing happens. So do your homework about natural hazards just like you would in vetting a realtor, or mortgage agent, or any other of the many things you need to think about in buying a home.

What do you need to know about natural hazards before you buy a home?

What do you need to know about natural hazards before you buy a home?

So let’s talk about natural hazards. The most common are flood, fire, weather-related, and earthquake. There are more fun games that Mother Nature can share with us, but we’ll concentrate on these.

  1. Flood.

Flooding happens when water rises high enough to reach normally dry land. It can happen because of rain, or tsunami, or hurricane. It can happen suddenly in a flash flood, or slowly as rivers rise in the spring thaw. But the flood zones are fairly well mapped so you can find out if the home you are interested in buying is in a flood zone.

River Flooding

Go to FEMA’s National Flood Layer Map and type in your address to see if the home you are looking at is in the flood plain.

If the home is in the flood plain, your mortgage company will likely require you to buy flood insurance. But thare is a lot that you can do to mitigate flood risk. Check out to get more information.

Hurricane Storm Surge

Hurricane storm surge is ocean water that is pushed on land by the force of the wind. It can reach up to 30 feet high and run miles inland. Remember Hurricane Katrina? If you are buying property in the south and east anywhere near the shore, go to check out the NOAA interactive map on modeled storm surge.

Storm Surge Inundation (SLOSH Maximum of Maximums)

 Tsunami floods

Tsunamis are caused when there is a large earthquake under the ocean. It can be extremely hazardous to be near the shore when one of these occur. If you are near the beach, and you feel an earthquake, get to high ground immediately as a tsunami could come ashore in just a few minutes. But what does this mean for you folks looking to buy a house? Well, if you are looking at beachfront property, take some time to find out if it is in the tsunami evacuation zone.

If you are looking for land in Washington and Oregon, you can check out this interactive map to see if the property you are interested in purchasing is at risk from a tsunami.

Oh, and the FEMA flood insurance covers tsunami. Good thing, that.

  1. Fire

So fires that can destroy a home come from two sources, an internal house fire and what is called “wildland fire”. I’m going to focus on wildland fire, for more information on house fires, go check out what the American Red Cross has to offer.

We love to live in the wild places of the world. To build our homes in the forests in order to be closer to nature. Well, Nature can be a bitch. One of her favorite toys is wild fire. And when we build our homes in or near the forests, we put ourselves in harm’s way. The National Fire Protection Association runs a program called Firewise. When you are looking at that gorgeous home in the trees, keep in mind that you may need to watch it go up in flames unless you mitigate the hazard.

  1. Wind


Ok, I admit it, I love the movie Twister. There I said it. But I also know that the reality is that tornadoes are a dangerous hazard that are going to get worse as climate change really digs into our weather patterns. When you are looking at home in an area that can get tornados (which is anywhere, really), ask about if the gables have been braced and the connections between vertical walls and roof have been strengthened. FEMA has a FAQ on tornado safe rooms.


Hurricane pose probably one of the most destructive, and familiar, types of natural hazards. If you live in the south and the east, you probably have been through one, or know someone who has. We all remember Hurricane Katrina. I do. It was one of the events that changed my life path and brought me into emergency management. But what does that have to do with buying a home?

Well, as you are doing your house shopping, keep things hurricanes in mind, if the hazards exists in your area. has a great website with information on hurricanes.

  1. Earthquakes

Ok, here is my personal favorite, earthquakes. The focus of my job is to get Oregon prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis. So, naturally, I think about these things day and night, and certainly when I am looking for a house to buy. So I’ve ruled areas of town because of flood hazard and now I look at expected shaking from earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Service has seismic hazard maps that you can look at to get an idea of areas of higher hazard.

Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries has an online hazard viewer, HazVu, that you can check out to see expected shaking in the area you are looking at houses. You might check to see if your state agencies offer a similar mapping service. Using this service, I ruled out some of the lower areas of Salem and am now concentrating on the south side, which is up on hills.

Well, this blog post should feed your paranoia about buying a home pretty well, as if you needed ONE MORE BLOODY THING to worry about in this hot mess that is buying a home. But that is what it is right, a home, and not just a house. You put so much effort into choosing the paint colors and floor coverings. Protect that sweat and tears that you put into your home. Consider the natural hazards in your area and buy a home in a smart way.

Additional Resources:

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