Irma could be a tough test of Florida’s upgraded building codes

Building codes statewide got tougher after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but a bigger storm looms

Monica Ningen of Swiss Re (Source: LinkedIn)
Monica Ningen of Swiss Re (Source: LinkedIn)

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew revealed lax building codes in Florida and led the state to require construction with greater resilience. Now, experts say Hurricane Irma could provide the toughest test of the state’s upgraded building codes since Andrew decimated southern Miami-Dade County.

Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, said economists and engineers concluded that a flawed building code was the primary cause of Hurricane Andrew’s extensive damage in the Miami area.

Florida adopted the most stringent building codes in the United States after Hurricane Andrew. For example, the codes have required the use of plywood in roof construction and have prohibited the substitution of particle board, and instead of roofing nails, staples are required.

Monica Ningen, chief property underwriter for the United States and Canada at Switzerland-based reinsurer Swiss Re, said tougher building codes minimized damage to mobile homes during Florida hurricanes in 2004 by requiring such homes to be fastened more securely to their foundations.

Upgraded building codes in Florida also require such specifications as shatterproof windows, roof fortification and reinforced concrete pillars.
Across most of the state, developers have been required since 2001 to build structures that can withstand winds of 111 miles per hour.

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Even tougher resilience requirements apply in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where structures must withstand, at a minimum, winds of 130 miles per hour.

But Hurricane Irma has produced winds of 185 miles per hours as it has approached Florida, raising questions about how “buildings under the new code are going to fare,” Allen Douglas, executive director of the Florida Engineering Society, told the Associated Press.

Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the engineering college at the University of Miami, also said the power of Hurricane Irma raises questions about how well Florida’s building codes will perform if the hurricane makes landfall in South Florida.

Swiss Re currently estimates that the total value of residential property in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties is approximately $660 billion and that commercial property values total about $550 billion. [Associated Press]Mike Seemuth