What Florida has learned from Hurricanes?
The State of Florida has survived so many major hurricanes that the lessons the state and its local building departments have learned could fill the Florida Building Code Manual (www.floridabuilding.org) on hurricane preparation, and the appropriate response to the continual threat of intensifying storms and hurricane activity.
With Hurricane Dorian, it has become obvious that a storm does not need to reach Category 5 strength or even make landfall to wreak havoc, create concern and scare Florida’s 21.3 million residents. “Every disaster comes with its own little hiccups,” said Bill Johnson, the director of emergency management in Palm Beach County and a 30-year veteran of working Florida storms. “My mantra is, ‘I don’t want to repeat the same mistake twice.’” Florida has some of the nation’s most stringent standards for home construction and installation, another legacy of Hurricane Andrew. The standards were credited with helping homes survive Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. But homes built before the new codes went into effect continue to concern not just authorities but Homeowners as well.
In 2016 Hurricane Matthew never made landfall in Florida. Instead, like Dorian its path stayed within miles of the state’s Atlantic coast. Both hurricanes caused significant flooding along the coast and as a result caused maximum damage to Jacksonville and St. Augustine. “The numbers really get astronomical in terms of amount of damage,” said Stephen Leatherman, a professor of earth and environment at Florida International University.
Florida Building Codes
As result of Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992, South Florida Building Codes were rewritten to require the installation of some type of hurricane protection on all new construction dwellings which included hurricane shutters, hurricane windows, and hurricane doors. By reinforcing the South Florida Building Code requirements, the thought was that should a storm like Hurricane Andrew hit the area again, impact windows and doors would protect the building envelope and mitigate storm damage. However, not every county in the state enforced the new Miami-Dade Protocol. In fact, as you got north and west of Broward County each municipality interpreted the code requirements differently.
When Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle in 2018, it offered the most substantial proof as to the value of the more stringent building codes being followed in the southern part of Florida as opposed to the looser code requirements in Northern Florida.
The history of Florida’s construction regulations improved after Hurricane Andrew, another Category 5 storm, pummeled Miami-Dade County in 1992. Stronger homes were also built after a rash of hurricanes tore through Florida 15 years ago, said W. Craig Fugate, a former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It was like the Three Bears: pre-Hurricane Andrew, after Hurricane Andrew and then after 2004,” said Mr. Fugate, who is also a former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “This is one of the lessons that I’m afraid Florida has to keep relearning,” he said. “In between periods of a lot of hurricane activity, there’s a tendency to say, ‘The building codes are making homes too expensive, it’s too difficult, maybe we overreached.’ “While making homes more expensive is concerning, after witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Dorian and taking into account the severity of the storms that have threatened or hit Florida over the last couple of years, I do not see an argument that could be made to not have all Florida Building Departments require that a building envelope be reinforced with some type of hurricane protection system including either shutters, wind abatement system or impact windows and doors.” Says Scott Berman President of Florida Window and Door.