Living in San Francisco, I accept certain natural hazards as inevitable; if a big earthquake hits, the whole city will be in shambles. But some places--specifically, locations in the hills--are safer than others. Maps of ground-shaking potential are available online if you know where to look, but up until now, they haven't been easily accessible to home-buyers and renters looking for a place to live. This week, online real estate marketplace Trulia unveiled a a tool this week that lets people see the potential for natural disaster in various locations before they get unexpectedly caught in the path of a flood, hurricane, earthquake, tornado, or wildfire (data on floods and earthquakes has been available since May).
All of the data comes from various agencies--USGS for earthquakes, FEMA for flooding (a work in progress), The Forest Service for wildfires, and so on. With some of the tools, like wildfires and hurricanes, you can see the locations of past events. Many of the most disaster-prone areas are coastal cities that command high housing prices. But if you want to live in an ultra-safe zone, buy property in one of these housing markets:
Some of the information found in the hazard maps might look familiar to locals--like this map of wildfire risk in Los Angeles, for example (click to zoom).
But homeowners in Philadelphia might be surprised to see that they live near a fire zone (in the Pine Barrens).
And residents of St. Louis, Missouri may only be vaguely aware that they live near the New Madrid fault, which has in the past generated earthquakes as large an 8.0 on the Richter Scale.
Trulia users can search for individual addresses and overlay disaster information on top of them. Peter Black, lead geospatial engineer at Trulia, says that a tool allowing users to search for homes based on disaster risk is also coming in the future.
"We're very cognizant of being the first to market in integrating this with real estate information," he says. Much to the dismay of real estate agents shilling properties in disaster-prone areas, of course.