You can see the inspiration for First Street Foundation—a nonprofit that has created a countrywide, multisource flood risk model—forming along critical points in the career of founder and executive director Matthew Eby.
At the Weather Channel parent Weather Co., where Eby was digital division vice president of marketing and then senior vice president of consumer and brand marketing, he interacted with hundreds of the company’s meteorologists and climatologists. “Thinking about the impacts of weather on a day-to-day basis really inspired me to want to start to work directly in my own company on the issue of climate,” he says.
That is what led him to found Anthro, a digital marketing agency specifically designed to help nonprofits and social good organizations boost their marketing efforts. After a few years, however, Eby wanted to, and believed he could, have more of a direct impact by starting his own nonprofit.
First Street Foundation is more than its model, which debuted in late June 2020 and incorporates climate change projections along with everything from pluvial and coastal flooding to sea level rise. In fact, its utility changes depending on the user. A concerned homeowner or renter can use the Flood Factor tool to see the potential impact of climate change and flooding on any address in the country on a 1-10 scale, accompanied by a more detailed analysis. Academics, who have both contributed to and used the organization’s rich data, are able to produce research that can reach wider audiences, with findings published or forthcoming on the foundation’s site on everything from how zoning laws interact with flood models to how adaptation and mitigation measures affect new development.
And for engineers who are doing work requiring the creation of a flood map or hydraulic model, “We’ve built that for the entire country, and we’ve done it in a peer-reviewed, open source, methodological way” that is also on spec, says Eby, potentially saving firms money, time and people power.
Eby’s original plan was to work with major modelers in the field, but they were unable to participate because of Eby’s decision to make the model available to the public. Instead, he turned to academia, and a “patchwork of partnerships” led the group to fuse all that specialized expertise into “one full probabilistic model for the country,” says Eby.
“Matthew built a team of top scientists and technologists to achieve his vision of how climate information can be integrated into our individual decision-making, by communicating complex science in a simple yet effective way that touches every single American home,” says Ed Kearns, chief data officer at First Street Foundation, and former chief data officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Paul Bates, chairman and co-founder of flood risk researcher Fathom, a close partner, praises Eby’s ability to bring it all together. “His project had very short timescales and multiple moving parts, but one of Matthew’s real skills is to keep this whole show on the road,” he says. “He’s also huge fun to work with, and that is so important.”
First Street Foundation has more than one intriguing model going for it. The company got its start with grants and large donations, but now has created an application programming interface (API) that for-profit companies can purchase, giving them and other interested parties access to property-level data from the model. That funds the publicly available research, the free Flood Factor tool and First Street’s future plans. “We can actually fill the mission of the nonprofit while at the same time fueling better business decisions,” says Eby.
An update to the model is coming soon, one that will show not only the flood risk at a particular location, but also resulting economic damage based on loss estimates. And further into the future, the organization is working on building out a fire-risk model.