Before the Deluge

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From western wildfires to Superstorm Sandy to the super soaking the Seattle area received in November, weather swept the headlines in 2012.

For Washington state residents, perched on fault lines with wilderness at their doorsteps, disaster preparedness is second nature. Earthquake insurance is common and most homeowner policies cover fire.

Yet flood insurance remains a mystery for many. It is not included in most standard policies, but it is federally mandated for residential structures in designated flood zones. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has overseen flood insurance nationwide since 1968. Through its National Flood Insurance Program, local insurance brokers can become licensed to sell flood insurance to their clients.

“Anybody can become a national flood insurance agent, through national wholesale brokers,” explains Joe Snapp, principal of Snapp & Son, a Seattle insurance company founded in 1937 and originally specializing in maritime shipping insurance. But, he estimates, the majority of agents licensed to sell flood insurance do so only a few times a year because the process is so convoluted. While FEMA makes and distributes flood zone maps to consumers, piecing together an accurate insurance estimate requires understanding of structural engineering reports, maps, policies and databases.

Snapp & Son’s answer to this situation, FloodBuddy, turns buying flood insurance into one-stop shopping. Users can access FloodBuddy online or through an iPhone app, and need only type in an address to see a “visual quote” in which rates and flood zone maps are presented together and colorized. The quote is a live offer from which a user can immediately purchase flood coverage. Sometimes, FloodBuddy needs more data and asks for a phone consultation.

Stephen Schramke, head of marketing for FloodBuddy, says, “Joe is doing for flood insurance what Zillow has done for home appraisals.” FloodBuddy consolidates what Snapp describes as a minimum of 10 phone calls and faxes among banks, surveyors, insurance agents and customers into one or two exchanges before generating quotes for customers.

Beta-launched in 2011, FloodBuddy now accounts for about 25 percent of the firm’s phone call activity, says Snapp, with customer interest growing markedly after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Climate change and coastal development also make flood risk a moving target, so FloodBuddy is constantly updating its databases to alert policyholders and potential customers.

An Amazon Exploration

An Amazon Exploration

Beware of the dogs. Two thousand of them.
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When I heard that Amazon.com is now offering tours of its buildings in Seattle, I couldn’t wait to sign up. After all, I had worked in its gigantic warehouse in Georgetown many years ago and was curious to see what the company was doing with the small amount of extra space that used to be known as South Lake Union.
 
I imagined an action-packed adventure of a fulfillment center, or the excitement of a warehouse filled with random stuff. I worried about the likelihood of an overtired employee wandering zombie-like through the hallway and threatening to eat my brain. 
 
Instead, there is office space.
 
And there are dogs. Lots of dogs.
 
At the Van Vorst Building (426 Terry Ave. N), I saw techies in their natural habitat, sitting in an easy-chair-filled lobby under posters celebrating Amazon’s early successes. There’s also a souvenir from a failure — an ice cave bear skeleton that was purchased on the long-gone Amazon Auctions. Plus, there were two of the 2,000 dogs registered to accompany their owners to work. 
 
Guide Allison Flicker offered tidbits about Amazon’s corporate history during the one-hour walking tour that provides peeks into six buildings. Like the fact that every building is named after something significant from Amazon’s past, including the last name of the company’s first customer, Wainwright, and the company’s first dog, Rufus. (Are you reading this, Rufus Wainwright?)
 
 
My favorite stop was the Brazil Building (400 Ninth Ave. N), where each floor represents a country and has displays of local currency and items popular in that particular region. At a stop on one floor, Flicker took us to a room filled with free advance copies of new book releases.
 
Fresh from a free-book high, I never saw the near-ambush by a little yappy dog as I floated down the hallway. A small fence and a fast-moving owner quickly thwarted the attack. 
 
My trauma was soothed at our final stop in yet another building, where a demonstration of a robotic arm used in the distribution centers yielded more swag — a recharger and a selfie stick. 
 
As the tour ended, I even got a free banana from the bananista at Amazon’s year-round banana stand. What more could anyone ask for? 
 
Amazon Tours
Free. Ages 6 and older. amazonhqtours.com.