Risk Factor™

Defining America’s climate risk

Risk Factor™ is an online tool created by the nonprofit First Street that makes it easy for Americans to find their home’s risk from environmental threats such as flooding, wildfires, extreme heat, and severe wind, and understand how risks are changing because of a changing environment.

Risk Factor™ was created to make the most cutting edge science:
    Accessible to all
    Available at the property level
    Easy to understand

First Street’s mission is to address the asymmetry in access to high-quality climate change data by quantifying and communicating America’s environmental risks so that everyone can make informed decisions for the future. By making environmental risk data accessible and easy to understand, individuals and communities can prepare for and mitigate risks before they become a reality.

There is a growing need for environmental risk data.

Flooding is the most expensive natural disaster in the United States, costing over $1 trillion in inflation adjusted dollars since 1980. Wildfires are the fastest growing disaster, pacing to cost $16 billion by 2029 – a 3x increase from the prior decade. Extreme heat is the deadliest severe-weather event in the U.S., causing an average of 1,373 deaths per year.

Cumulative cost of natural disasters since 1980

Identifying risks beyond Federal databases.

Historically, Flood risk has been largely defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps, which are used to define mortgage risks, set insurance rates, and establish building and land use regulations. These maps identify over 1.1 million square miles of flood hazard areas, and while these maps can provide valuable information on flood risk, they are not available everywhere.

Wildfire Risk is quantified for Americans by the USDA Forest Service through WildFireRisk.org, which has been primarily designed to help community leaders such as elected officials, community planners, and fire managers understand how risk varies across a state, region, or county and prioritize actions to mitigate risk. These maps are great resources for communities, but property owners can find it difficult to make personal decisions on fire risk mitigation based on data that only goes to a community level. To quote WildfireRisk.org’s own site, “The data are not locally calibrated…and are not designed for considering risk at the local, neighborhood, or individual home scale.”

As temperatures have risen, several government agencies including NOAA and the NIHHS have begun a collaboration aimed at better predicting extreme heat warnings in order to reduce heat fatalities, but this information too is aimed mostly at community leaders and government officials, and the predictions are made at a coarse resolution that doesn’t provide information more detailed than a county level. Property owners are left without information that takes their immediate surroundings into account in order to take their own steps to mitigate the effects of heat.

Another limitation of federal agencies’ data is how climate change will impact these risks over the duration of a homeowner’s mortgage. The First Street Flood Model behind Flood Factor® shows that when climate data is included, flood risk is much more widespread in the United States, with over 24 million properties at risk over the next 30 years and where only two states require disclosures of fire risk to homebuyers on a property level, the First Street Wildfire Model that drives Fire Factor® provides first of its kind, property level information on climate-adjusted wildfire risk across the entire continuous United States.

Comparison of US risk data sources

USDA
Development requirements
Insurance rates
Current risk
Future risk
Property risk
FEMA
Development requirements
Insurance rates
Current risk
Future risk
Property risk
Risk Factor Logo
Development requirements
Insurance rates
Current risk
Future risk
Property risk

Risk Factor™ is most powerful when used in conjunction with the FEMA flood maps, WildFire.org, and other available state and local risk resources. Risk Factor™ should be viewed as complementary to the federally adopted risk maps for a community, which need to be used for building and permitting purposes. Risk Factor™ allows individuals to easily view risk information at the property level, and provides useful information on potential actions to mitigate risk. More information on each community’s risk maps and mitigation plans, however, can be best obtained by contacting the community’s floodplain manager or local fire department.

Risk Factor™ data is the first of its kind.

The creation of Risk Factor™ required an unprecedented partnership of more than 100 world-renowned scientists, technologists and analysts working towards a unified goal: creating the First Street National Flood and Wildfire Models, the first publicly available, peer-reviewed models to consider changes in the environment and show how property-level risks change over time as a result.

By projecting different environmental scenarios, scientists are able to model how environmental risks will change in the future. The result: past, present, and future risks for more than 145 million properties across the United States.
 

Four major flood types

The First Street Flood Model calculates any home’s probability of flooding from the four major flood types: pluvial (rain), fluvial (rivers), tidal events, and storm surge, then incorporates high-precision elevation and building footprint data along with local adaptation measures like seawalls and levees into its flood projections, validates against modeled historic floods, and then analyzes and maps the flood risk.

    Tidal King tides, Florida 2019.
    Joe Raedi / Getty Images
    Riverine Union, Nebraska, 2019.
    Scott Olsen / Getty Images
    Rain Trop. Storm Imelda, Texas, 2019.
    Thomas B. Shea / Getty Images
    Storm Surge Hurricane Barry, Louisiana, 2019
    Scott Olsen / Getty Images

Properties at risk from flooding

  • 29.5M
    This year
  • 30.5M
    In 30 years

Five characteristics of home wildfire vulnerability

The First Street Foundation Wildfire Model determines any home’s probability of burning by identifying potential ignition points from both natural and man-made sources, calculating how local fuels, landscape, and fire intensity will contribute to flame spread and ember cast, and quantifies the risk to the structure based on whether the home was built before the implementation of modern fire codes, its building materials, and distance to nearby vegetation.

Properties at risk from wildfire

  • 72.7M
    This year
  • 83.6M
    In 30 years

Tracking increasing hot days across the U.S.

The First Street Foundation Extreme Heat Model identifies the severity of heat risk at any property by looking at how the land use, distance to water, and relative elevation affect the way temperatures will increase over the next 30 years and uses that information to predict the number of hot days that will be experienced at that property using multiple thresholds for safety, local acclimatization, and indoor cooling usage. It also predicts the increase in energy usage and energy costs that residents will experience over the duration of a 30-year mortgage.

By projecting different environmental scenarios, scientists are able to model how environmental risks will change in the future. The result: past, present, and future risks for more than 145 million properties across the United States.

Average increase in local hot days

  • 7days
    This year
  • 18days
    In 30 years

Incorporating severe wind risk

The First Street Foundation Wind Model is used to calculate the likelihood and intensity of a severe wind event impacting any property over the next 30 years. Wind Factor™ scores consider a property’s risk from hurricane, tornado or severe storms today and 30 years into the future. Risk Factor™ also includes a property’s estimated cost to repair wind damage based on its risk and the building’s characteristics, such as its roof type.

Properties at risk from severe wind

  • 16.1M
    This year
  • 107M
    In 30 years

Incorporating air quality risk

As temperatures increase and weather patterns continue to change, wildfires will increase in both frequency and severity leading to worsening air quality. Without the necessary access to accurate risk information, more Americans will unknowingly be at risk from poor air quality.

First Street supports scientific collaboration and data transparency, and created Risk Factor™ to make its peer-reviewed research on these risks accessible to all.

Properties at risk from poor air quality

  • 107.4M
    This year
  • 119.6M
    In 30 years